Deceased September 21, 1995
In the early morning hours of Sept. 21, 1995, we lost Drew Ruotolo. The cause of death was esophageal cancer, which had been diagnosed six months earlier. Drew was 42. He leaves behind his wife, Mary, and three children: Lyndsay, 13; Andrew, 10; and Jayne, 8. At the time of his death, Drew was the county prosecutor of Union County, N.J., an appointment which New Jersey Governor Jim Florio described as “one of the best appointments I made.”
Drew’s childhood was spent in Westfield, N.J., where he eventually returned and lived for the last 10 years. He was a graduate of Westfield High School, where he earned All-American honors as a swimmer. At Amherst, after freshman year in Morrow, Drew joined TD. Senior year Drew lived with several classmates in a ramshackle Cape Cod house on the edge of Quabbin Reservoir in Pelham. While at Amherst, he played freshman football, eventually converting to rugby, for which he was chosen the team captain in his senior year. Drew would remain vigorously athletic throughout his life: wind surfing, triathlon competition, swimming, running. In the last several years, it was his custom to join the latest class of police recruits in their five-mile training run.
In 1978 Drew graduated from Fordham University Law School. After a short stint in private practice, he was appointed as assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey; working in the criminal division from 1981 to 1984. He thereafter reentered private practice. In 1985, Drew was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the New Jersey Assembly, running a glorious campaign in a woefully Republican district.
In 1992, Governor Florio appointed him Union County prosecutor. In that position he was a chief law enforcement officer in Union County, N.J. He was responsible for some 220 employees, including 55 attorneys, detectives, chemists and clerical staff. A man of deeds with the soul of a poet, his tenure in office was characterized by his genuine concern for victims and his driving passion to lift up the quality of life around him. He founded a county-wide Domestic Violence Unit and spearheaded the creation of a residential facility for the support and counseling of child-abuse victims. He personally conducted the successful prosecution of the first case under the State’s bias crime law, against a man who habitually shouted racial epithets at minority school children. A fellow county prosecutor recalled, “He had an exuberance which was honestly infectious. There was no task, gathering, accomplishment or event he didn’t approach with liveliness and his whole heart.”
With increasing frequency, classmates in the New York metropolitan area saw news items featuring the handsome visage and eloquent words of this grey-templed crime fighter. New Jersey state political leaders agree that Drew was on a fast track to higher office. He had already been considered for U.S. attorney appointment, as well as a judgeship.
Drew loved public life, fighting for rights, helping victims, being in the thick of action, warming in the spotlight. When his illness was first diagnosed, it was promptly disclosed by news report, accompanied by Drew’s confident announcement that he would overcome the disease. He remained the jokester and raconteur to the end, entertaining the visitors at his bedside. He faced death with calmness, devoid of self-pity or fear. The esteem in which he was held in his community was reflected by the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects, and a four mile-long motorcade which followed Drew to his resting place. Drew was honored at his funeral by dozens of police cruisers, scores of uniformed officers, bagpipes, a 21-gun salute. … he would have loved it.
You may remember Drew for his special gift for storytelling. By his telling, he lifted the mundane to a higher level with poignancy, be it humor, romance, tragedy or heroism. In all he did, Drew was burdened and blessed by that drive to elevate life. When time became the most precious for him, Drew devoted himself single-mindedly to his greatest joys, his courageous wife, Mary, and their three wonderful children. If Drew leaves us with anything other than our fond memories, it is the reminder that there is no higher ambition than that for the love of family.
We are going to miss you, Drew.
Peter G. Webb ’74