A dynamic sports hero turned popular elected official who was revered for the care and attention he paid to his constituents, Middlesex County Commissioner Kenneth Armwood of Piscataway has died.
His charismatic presence and warm smile – and love of people and public service – were infectious.
He was 46.
“A friend of not just to me but of thousands in our state,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “This one really hurts. His passing is a huge loss for Middlesex County and our state. Kenny lived and breathed public service. He had so much still to do and give back. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, his colleagues and his friends.
“God bless you, pal,” Murphy added.
“He was an honorable servant and what he brought was always himself,” said Union County Commissioner Angela Garretson. “He always offered the most moving messages that everyone could relate to. Not only did he allow you to dig deeper into the issues, but to come out of the conversation even stronger.
“He was one of the leaders in this movement,” added Garretson, referring to the fight to change the name freeholder to commissioner. “I will always be grateful for his leadership and his friendship.”
“Today we mourn the passing of Middlesex County Commissioner Kenneth Armwood, a gentle man in a time when they are needed so much, a great leader when the community called out for one, and a mentor to thousands who thrived because of him,” said Shanel Robinson, Somerset County Commissioner Director. “As he had done for so many others over the years, Kenny sent words of comfort me when my father passed away recently. Kenny was my colleague, my friend, my brother.”
New Jersey Black County Caucus (NJBCC) an affiliate of NJAC, issued a statement.
“NJBCC expresses our sincere condolences to our brother, with heavy hearts as we say goodbye to one of our NJ19 founding members. Middlesex County Deputy Director, Commissioner Kenneth Armwood, we salute you Sir for your dedicated service to your community and our state. REST IN POWER! May your spirit and wise words live on through all your accomplishments, the constituents your served, and everyone you inspired.”
Piscataway leaders are in shock this morning with the passing of Kenny Armwood, first elected to the Piscataway School Board as a 19-year-old and who rose up the political ranks to the Township Council and then to what was called the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. His colleagues on what is now called the Middlesex County Commission named him their Deputy Commission Director.
“Kenny embodied all the good of Piscataway,” Mayor Brian C. Wahler said. “He was an integral part of the community not only because of his long-standing public service in his short time among us but because his number of friendships that are too large to count. He may very well have been the most liked person in Piscataway with his gracious smile and open hand of camaraderie.”
“Everyone has a good story about Kenny Armwood because when he came into your life, it had a wonderful and profound impact,” Mayor Wahler said. “He mentored the young and he listened to all. He was a natural born leader and a compatriot to every walk of life in every neighborhood. To say he will be missed is an understatement because the vibrancy of any community event would bloom when he arrived.”
“What a devastating tragedy for all of Middlesex County,” Sheriff Mildred S. Scott said. “Our deep bond sprung from our decades as friends and political allies in Piscataway, but it was serving together at the county level that tied us even more closely as a team working to help everyone in the greater community.”
“Kenny had a voice that was not only profound and visionary but also comforting and inclusive,” Sheriff Scott continued. “A silence has fallen over the county today and we grieve together in our profound loss of a friend to all.’
“The Piscataway community has lost a true hero and one of the nicest persons you could know,” Senator Bob Smith said. “Ellen & I have known him since high school and Kenny dedicated his life to public service first on the school board, on township council and then as Deputy Commission Director. This is a tragic loss and we will all miss our friend dearly.”
“I remember how kind he was to my mother who was elderly and infirmed,” Councilmember Gabrielle Cahill (At-Large) said. “Here was this older woman who looked up to a person half her age as a leader because he was gifted beyond his years.”
“Kenny was a dear friend,” Cahill continued. “He represented the best of us not only because he achieved much and led with conviction but because on a personal level he showed us how to fully love all neighbors and bring out the best qualities of each of us.”
“He has brothers and sisters of many walks of all faiths and could look at life itself with a broad sense of community and embrace the future,” Reverend Dr. Kenneth L. Saunders, Sr. & Mrs. Shirley A. Saunders said. “While his own number of relatives are few, his larger family of the Piscataway community was filled countless people who felt his love and loved him back.”
The retired long-time leader of North Stelton AME Church, Reverend Saunders served on the Piscataway Township Council with Commissioner Armwood and he and Mrs. Saunders continued to engage him as the leaders of the Piscataway Civil Rights Advisory Commission.
“He embraced the church, he embraced the community, and he gave everything of himself to those among us,” Reverend Saunders continued. “Kenny was a gift to us, and as we ponder the fragility of life, let us strive to live up to his example that we should hold onto the blessings of every day and cherish them.”
“I knew him since he was a kid,” Councilmember Steven D. Cahn (Ward 3) said. “He was the student representative on the School Board and I was one of its young lawyers. Not too long after graduation he was elected to the School Board, an almost unheard of accomplishment for a 19-year-old but not surprising if you knew Kenny.”
“Our lives intertwined closely both professionally and personally,” Cahn continued. “Whether it was serving together on the Township Council, knocking on doors campaigning together or hanging out at each other’s homes, you just wanted to spend time with Kenny because of his booming and caring personality. As Piscataway reawakens from this pandemic and as neighbors begin to gather again to socialize, his absence will be the most difficult change. I wish we could hear his laugh again.”
“I knew him when he was in high school and his childhood path was not an easy one,” former Mayor Ted Light said, “yet even with difficulties placed upon him, he felt the calling to help others with their needs. His hard work, remarkable self-confidence and cheery disposition are amazing evidence of the benevolent nature of his larger-than-life personality and drive to find success and selflessly give to others. It is a sad loss for Piscataway and the entire county.”
“Words cannot express the numbness and feelings of emptiness I feel today,” Council Vice President Michele Lombardi said. “We have lost an incredible public servant who had an amazing future, and I have lost a mentor and great friend with a beautiful heart!”
Mr. Armwood, chaired the County’s Business Innovation, Education and Opportunity Committee. Deputy Director Armwood’s accomplishments reflected his mission: to provide services and programs that will keep the County’s schools and businesses strong, relevant, and effective.
As a lifelong resident of Piscataway and a graduate of Rutgers University, Deputy Director Armwood was a true Middlesex County original, according to the county. His dedication to public service began at age 19, when he was elected to the Piscataway School Board. While on the Board of Education, he served as a member of the Middlesex County Task Force on School Violence, which created an emergency response manual for schools throughout the County. It has since been used as the model for a state program.
Deputy Director Armwood’s experience in government also included his election to the Piscataway Township Council (2004-2013), where he served as Council President in 2008 and 2013. As a councilman, Mr. Armwood was involved in the renovation of Quibbletown Park, where the “All Children’s Playground” was designed for children with or without disabilities so that they all can play together. This development provided Middlesex County with one of the most unique and inclusive parks in the State.
Joining the Board of County Commissioners in March 2013, Deputy Director Armwood oversaw the County’s Business Innovation, Education and Opportunity Committee, which fosters economic, cultural, artistic and educational development. He was named County Commissioner Deputy Director in 2020.