Cooper hospital renames building in memory of John and Joyce Sheridan

Mark Sheridan, son of the late John and Joyce Sheridan, speaks at the ceremony in which Cooper University Health System formally renamed 3 Cooper Plaza after the couple on Wednesday.

A five-story ambulatory care building at Cooper University Hospital in Camden is now officially named for the hospital’s former CEO John P. Sheridan Jr. and his wife, Joyce, who died under mysterious circumstances on Sept. 28, 2014.

On Wednesday, 30 members of the Sheridan family, including the couple’s four sons, attended a dedication ceremony at Three Cooper Plaza, now named the Sheridan Pavilion. Gov. Christie and five former governors spoke about the vision the Sheridans had for Camden -- turning the crime-ridden city into a thriving community by expanding Cooper University Health System facilities.

Many described John Sheridan as kind and caring, a man of integrity, and someone who worked hard to get the job done no matter the task. Joyce Sheridan, a retired teacher, supported her husband and shared his passion for Camden, several speakers said.

Christie told dozens in the audience that John Sheridan, who had been on his transition team, approached him at the beginning of his administration and said, “Governor, if you have the will, we can transform this city.”

Under Sheridan’s leadership of nearly a decade, the hospital created a “modern, cutting-edge” cancer-treatment center, Christie said. “Who would have thought that possible 16 years ago?”

Through the new name, the Sheridans will forever remain part of the city they loved, said Cooper CEO and president Adrienne Kirby. Some of those who spoke acknowledged it would not take away the family’s loss. Although no one mentioned the specifics of their deaths, Kirby and  other speakers called the ceremony a celebration of their lives, but acknowledged it was a “bittersweet occasion.”

John, 72, and Joyce, 69, Sheridan were found dead in their Somerset County home. Both had numerous stab wounds and serious burns from a fire set in their bedroom. Local and state authorities concluded that John Sheridan killed his wife, set the fire, and stabbed himself five times, which the couple’s sons have disputed vigorously.

They insisted that authorities botched the investigation and petitioned the state to have their father’s death certificate changed. This year, the state medical examiner amended John Sheridan’s manner of death from suicide to undetermined. Authorities have not disclosed whether the criminal investigation has been reopened.

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who named John Sheridan as his transportation commissioner, said that he and others who knew the Sheridans never believed John Sheridan was responsible for the deaths, and that he cannot understand why authorities had not done a “thorough” investigation.

“We don’t know who killed them,” Kean said after the ceremony. Law enforcement, he said, owes it to the family, friends, and the public to find the truth and bring closure to the case.

When asked about a criminal investigation being reopened, Christie responded after the ceremony, “I’m not involved in any of that. You have to talk to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said by email, “We do not have any comment. Our policy is that we neither confirm nor deny the status or existence of investigations.”

Somerset County authorities did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The couple's sons hired forensic pathologist Michael Baden to autopsy their father. Baden said it was more likely the couple was murdered by an intruder and revealed that neither of the knives found at the scene caused John Sheridan’s wounds.

George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic leader and chairman of Cooper’s trustee board, recruited Sheridan to work at Cooper. Sheridan started in 2005 as senior executive vice president, and worked as CEO from 2008 until his death.

Norcross, introduced by Kirby, spoke before Christie and the former governors took their turns.

“John loved Cooper and Cooper loved him back,” Norcross said. Sheridan was a Republican insider who advised governors of both parties. Norcross said he was a popular CEO with whom he worked well in transforming Camden.

“John Sheridan left a lasting legacy at Cooper University Health Care and in Camden, a city he worked tirelessly to improve,” Norcross said.

Built in 1986, the 160,000-square-foot building includes primary care, specialists, and community-health physicians. It is part of a Health Sciences Campus project Sheridan led at Cooper.

Sheridan was instrumental in the creation of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Two Cooper Plaza and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

Mark Sheridan spoke on behalf of his family and urged his children to remember the event as a significant time in their lives, to understand what the Sheridan name means, and to earn the respect that comes with the legacy of their grandparents.

“Mom and Dad dedicated themselves to making Cooper and Camden better places, Dad through his tireless efforts at Cooper hospital and Cooper’s Ferry, and Mom through her unending support of him and his work,” Mark Sheridan said in thanking Kirby, Norcross, and the others for recognizing his parents' contributions. “They were so proud of the success of the hospital and the revitalization of the surrounding community.”