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'Larger Than Life' Late Tom Durkin Jr. Named Irishman of the Year

Essex Fells resident recognized during Salute to the Irish celebration.

Elizabeth Durkin (center) receives Irishman of the Year award for her late husband. (Photo: Glen Frieson)
Elizabeth Durkin (center) receives Irishman of the Year award for her late husband. (Photo: Glen Frieson)
The following was submitted by the Essex County Board of Freeholders:

The late Thomas E. Durkin Jr., of Essex Fells, was honored posthumously as the Essex County “Irishman of the Year” by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders during its 2014 “Salute to the Irish” Celebration held in March at the Hall of Records.

The event was co-sponsored by District 4 Freeholder Leonard Luciano, of West Caldwell, District 5 Freeholder Brendan Gill, of Montclair, Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin.

The Board’s commendation honoring Durkin, a true giant in the legal, Catholic and Irish-American communities who died on New Year’s Day, was presented to his wife of 65 years, Elizabeth Murphy Durkin, who was accompanied by five of her seven children.

“Tonight we will honor the memory of the late Thomas E. Durkin, Jr., and we are so honored to have his family with us here tonight to receive this posthumous award," Gill said. "He was larger than life, and will be remembered for generations to come. We are so sorry that he has left us, but also happy to be able to acknowledge his far-reaching contributions to our county, our state and our nation.” 

Gill also spoke about Durkin having been a World War II veteran saying, “He was among the greatest of the ‘greatest generation’, and it is our responsibility to never forget people like him, because we stand here today because of what he did, of what he achieved, and especially today, for what he gave to the Irish-American community.”

“To celebrate the Essex County Irishman of the Year," Luciano said, “it is only fitting that we honor Mr. Durkin in his beloved hometown of Newark, right around the corner from his alma mater, St. Benedict’s Prep, and on the same property he frequented so often as an esteemed trial attorney for over 50 years.” 

Luciano recalled having first met Durkin many years ago as a 14-year-old caddy at the Essex Fells Country Club. 

“What impressed me most about Mr. Durkin was his love of family, and of his preference for playing golf and spending time on the links with his children and grandchildren, rather than with the many celebrities, pro athletes, distinguished doctors, famous entrepreneurs, lawyers, judges and elected officials who were also members there.”  He went on to say, “Despite his immense professional reputation, he was a very humble man who simply enjoyed being with his family.”

Thomas Edward Durkin Jr. was born in Newark on Jan. 2, 1924, the first of six children born to Thomas Edward Durkin Sr. and Mary Ward.  He attended Sacred Heart School in Vailsburg and graduated from St. Benedict’s Prep in 1943, after which he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. 

He then graduated from Fordham University and Fordham School of Law, and in 1955 founded what would become the prominent law firm of Durkin & Durkin, and to litigate some of the most noted criminal cases of his time and argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on several occasions.

He was elected to the N.J. General Assembly in 1957, but his influence in state politics extended far beyond his tenure in office due to his rare combination of legal prowess and personal humility, which enabled him to serve as a uniquely trusted counselor to Catholic prelates, political figures, law enforcement leaders, and a host of ordinary people in need of his help.  He also devoted his energy and expertise to numerous charities, especially those involving the Catholic Church and the visually-impaired.

He was also very active in the Irish-American community.  He marched in every Newark St. Patrick’s Day Parade from 1938-2013 (except those during WWII), was named “Irishman of the Year” by the Brian Boru Association in 1968, and decades later the Newark parade was dedicated to the Durkin Family in his honor.

Durkin was the recipient of numerous other honors for both his professional accomplishments and charitable contributions, including: he was named a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory by Pope John Paul II at the behest of Newark Archbishop Theodore Cardinal McCarrick; St. Benedict’s Prep awarded him the “Medal of St. Benedict’s” in 1997 and its Thomas E. Durkin, Jr. Scholarship was endowed in his honor; and in 2009 the Seton Hall Law Center awarded him the “St. Thomas More Medal” for outstanding contributions to the law, the community and the Catholic Church.

Thomas Edward Durkin Jr. resided in Essex Fells with his wife of 65 years, Elizabeth Murphy Durkin, until his passing on January 1, 2014.  He is also survived by their seven children: Thomas E., III, Hugh, Dennis, Cornelius, M. Murphy, Liz and Tish (O’Sullivan).

"I miss my husband terribly," Elizabeth Durkin said when accepting the Board’s commendation honoring her husband. “I enjoyed my time with him very, very much for over 65 years, and although it hasn’t been easy since January, with all the support I have it hasn’t been all that difficult either."

Joanne Mahaney May 14, 2014 at 11:24 AM
Slainte Tom Durkin. God bless your wonderful family. I did not know him but am very impressed with his contribution to society. Joanne Mahaney

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