I first met Barbara Cifelli-Sherry, who died today aged 80, in 1997. That was the first year. I was involved in local politics and it was around the same time she first took office as a Second Ward councilwoman in Kearny. In fact, it was my hope the very next year I would join her at the council table, but that didn’t quite work out the way I ultimately had planned (I give thanks for that now.)
When we first met, let’s just say she didn’t care for me and I didn’t care for her either. In fact, since I was striving to get onto the council, I would often write letters to The Observer, The Hudson Press and The Jersey Journal that slammed her, often for no reason other than to try to rattle her, get under her skin.
And boy would she rebut my immaturity, often calling my letters “silly little diatribes written by a child.”
I was 23. And she was always right, even if I didn’t want to admit it then.
Then, in 1999, after losing a third election in three years (General Assembly in 1997, Kearny Council in 1998 and Kearny Board of Education in 1999), I gave up and decided I would be better suited on the other side of the dais and then I got behind the portion of the Democratic Party that Barbara wasn’t a part of.
That, too, was yet another losing gamble. But it was in those two years, 1999 and 2000, that I realized I really was an immature punk, El Niño as she nicknamed me and loved to remind me, and like with so many others, I knew I had become disagreeable just to disagree — and not for any other reason. The reality was, we agreed on almost every issue, locally, state wide and across the country and globe.
We were neither fond of W, the wars in the Middle East and any number of pertinent issues of the day.
But then in 2007, I moved away from Kearny for nine years and lost touch with Barbara until Facebook grew in popularity and I was able to reconnect with her. Even before then, however, I grew to love her like one would a grandmother. And she because a powerful and trusted confidante, someone who I turned to in the best of times and someone I turned to in my weakest of times.
Over those years, however, she taught me so much — about good government, politics, loving the Giants more, but most importantly, the utter importance of love for family. Those lessons helped to shape me into a better human being — and to strengthen the bond I shared with my mother. (She was 10 years mum’s elder.)
“Nothing and no one should matter more,” she would always remind me.
And was she ever right.
We would talk from time to time when I moved to Florida in 2012 — and after she retired from the Kearny Council and then decided to run for the Board of Education, I couldn’t have been more happy. And as luck had it, she joined that board after winning until she decided to retire just a year or so ago.
Like so many others who are reading this, Barbara had a powerful impact on my life and I know she did on yours, too. She was grandma. Mom. Councilwoman. The Commish (from her days as chairwoman of the police committee.) She was everything to Kearny. And as she grew older, she could have long given up being of service, but she didn’t, because it was just in her blood.
She loved Dennis, her late husband. She loved her children. Her grandkids. And, I think it is safe to say she loved all those with whom she came into contact (even if in my own case, it took a while.)
She leaves behind a legacy that will be hard to match, let alone surpass. And as anyone who ever visits Facebook on a daily basis will know, that social media platform just got a less challenging for anyone who supports or likes former President Donald J. Trump.
She never held back how she felt about Donald, Chris Christie, President Joseph R. Biden Jr., President Barack H. Obama (and boy did she love Barack.) She never held back on how she loved her family, how much she missed Dennis, how important football Sundays were and how much she cared for her beloved Kearny.
I will never be the same without her to call on, to email, to turn to, at times of triumph or disdain, so I can only imagine what it will feel like for her family, who today lost a true matriarch. What I can imagine, however, is how blessed we all are, those of us who knew her. And how much those who didn’t know her missed out on.
But now she is in heaven with Dennis. She will be rooting on the New York Giants in a year that is supposed to belong to the New York Jets. And she is looking down already at all of us, wondering, without question, who will win the mayoral election in Kearny in November.
And though she is no longer with us in body, her spirit will live on forever — that spirit of love, giving, care and compassion, that I know I will miss the most.
Rest in peace, Barbara. You truly were one of Kearny’s greatest gems of all time.
None of us will ever be the same without you.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.