Ralph G. Engelsman '52 died May 24, 2012.
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RALPH G. ENGELSMAN ’52
Ralph Engelsman’s sudden death on May 24, at our reunion, stunned the class and the campus. Ralph collapsed at a bench quite near the site of his James freshman dorm room. President Biddy Martin reacted immediately, called his sons, visited the class and spoke with praise for Ralph on several occasions.
Ralph served the class as president, vice president, secretary, program chair and, perhaps most notably, editor of ’52 Pickup and Vintage ’52, our reunion books full of autobiographies and incentives to return to Amherst.
His record of community leadership was impressive: Democratic mayor of Republican Madison, N.J., civic reconciler, chair of his local human relations council and its downtown development commission, and head of Morris County’s Family Service, among many others.
Ralph was born in New York City and attended Landon School near Washington, D.C. He majored in dramatic arts and was a member of Phi Alpha Psi. As a U.S. Navy officer he served on a destroyer, then, like his father, he entered the insurance business, later heading an independent consulting company for a quarter century. A celebration for Ralph at the Madison Hotel brought an appreciative crowd of neighbors, friends, tennis competitors and civic leaders. The Hellers, Stackpoles and I joined the party’s positive spirit.
Ralph’s uncle, Alan Barth, was a Washington Post editorial writer and civil libertarian, an inspiration to Ralph and incidentally to me. His visit to Sweet Briar College, where Joan Chamberlain was an honor student, led to her marriage to Ralph in 1955. Joan, a prominent theologian and feminist, died in 2001. Ralph’s brother Alan ’54 died in 2003. He leaves sons Marc and Daniel, five grandchildren and his partner, Sally Epstein.
Ralph closed his own entry to Vintage ’52 this way: “Despite the indignities of aging, I am still a cockeyed optimist, my family lives nearby … and I hope I have removed (some burdens from my) children and grandchildren. I think that makes me a lucky duck.”
—Jack MacKenzie ’52
Ralph G. Engelsman Obituary
Ralph Engelsman, former mayor of Madison and an active public citizen, died on May 24, 2012 in Amherst, MA while attending his 60th Class Reunion at Amherst College. He was born February 4, 1930 in New York City. He graduated from the Landon School in 1948 and Amherst College in 1952. Ralph went through Naval OCS and served as a deck officer on the USS Harold J. Ellison for two years. Following in his father’s footsteps he entered the life insurance business in 1956 with MONY and then Mutual Benefit Life Insurance. In 1972 he established an independent consulting firm, Engelsman Associates, from which he retired in 1998.
Ralph became active in Madison politics in the mid sixties. A lifelong Democrat, he was appointed to the Borough Council in 1986 and was elected Mayor in 1987. He served as Mayor from 1988 through 1991. During his tenure he established a Committee on the 1990’s to examine what might be improved and to plan for the future. He also introduced an annual planning meeting and a New Comers Night, and provided medallions to volunteer citizens who served five or more years working for the Borough. He was proud of negotiating a settlement with the DEP regarding a Madison-Chatham sewer plant.
Other civic activities included being president of the Green Village School PTO in 1965; serving as chair of the Madison Florham Park Human Relations Council in the late 1960’s; serving on the Madison Recreation Committee in the 70’s; service on the Board of Trustees at Cheshire Home and on the Playwright’s Theatre of NJ. After serving as Mayor, he was Chairperson of Madison’s Downtown Development Commission, and served on the Madison’s Housing Authority for seven and a half years.
For twenty years, he was actively involved on the Board of Morris Tomorrow, working to improve shared services, visioning and diversity questions with that organization. He felt his involvement with Family Service of Morris County was a capstone in his life. He was President of the Board of Managers in 2001-2002, during which time the organization decided to buy property on which a new headquarters was built. He was made an Honorary Manager in 2004.
Ralph loved playing tennis and platform tennis at the Morristown Field Club, where he was a member for more than 40 years. He was an active Rotarian for 18 years, president of the Madison Club in 1997, and a Paul Harris Fellow. He led Rotary exchange trips to Japan and Brazil. A loyal alum of Amherst College, Ralph worked on planning reunions and was the primary editor for the Class of 52’s 50th and 60th reunion books, and served as Class President, Vice President, Secretary, and Reunion Program Chair over the years.
Ralph was predeceased by his wife Joan LePage Chamberlain who died in 2001 and his brother Alan Engelsman. He is survived by his chum, Sally Epstein; his two sons Marc Engelsman and Daniel Engelsman; Dan’s wife Susan and five grandchildren -- Robertson, Joshua, Anna, Alison, and Patrick Engelsman.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Family Service of Morris County http://www.fsmc.org/. In accordance with Ralph’s wishes, a Memorial Cocktail party will be held on Thursday, June 7 at The Madison Hotel 1 Convent Road Morristown, N.J. from 4-7 pm.
sent by his son Marc.