The funeral for former Camden Mayor Melvin “Randy” Primas Jr. on Friday was a Who’s Who of Camden politicians.
Former mayor Gwendolyn Faison, current mayor Dana L. Redd, about half of City Hall — council members, departments heads and longtime secretaries — and hundreds more packed St. John Baptist Church in East Camden.
Then there were the state and county politicos, virtually all of them Democrats: former Gov. Jim Florio, U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, Sen. Donald Norcross, Assemblyman Whip Wilson, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash and more.
Some of the attendees wore fantastic outfits. Faison, in particular, had a magnificent hat with shiny rhinestones all over and a big black bow on the side (Princess Beatrice and the rest of the royal wedding guests would have been jealous.)
The ceremony, which started with a two-hour viewing and concluded with an hour and a half “home going” service, featured more laughs than tears.
Mr. Primas, 62, who had bone-marrow cancer, lived in Fort Mill, S.C., at the time of his death. He died March 1 at a hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C.
He was the first African American mayor of Camden when he was first elected in 1981. He served three terms as mayor and in 1990 was appointed by Florio to be commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
A decade later, Mr. Primas came back to the city as its state-appointed chief operating officer following Trenton’s takeover. He retired in 2006.
Mr. Primas was eulogized as someone who from a very young age was active in his community.
After graduating from Howard University in 1971, Mr. Primas joined the Black People’s Unity Movement and fought for equality in Camden. He was elected to city council at the age of 23.
“Think of the 23-year-olds you know,” St. John Baptist pastor Silas Townsend told the crowd. “How many would you want governing your city?”
People laughed and Townsend continued with stories about Mr. Primas being a role model for young people, not just for his government service but also for how he put family first.
Despite having left Camden, Mr. Primas left an impression on some of Camdens’ youngest leaders.
School board member Sean Brown, 29, said while Mr. Primas was chief operating officer the two would exchange e-mails about various city issues.
“He was a very nice, friendly, easy-to-talk-to person, and I appreciated that,” Brown said. “I think he had a very challenging job and he handled it with grace.”
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