(ABOVE: photo via Facebook)
by Kurt Gardiner
Hoboken political activist and NHSA Commissioner
Dean Kemph, a former Hoboken resident and long-time government reform activist passed away suddenly this week at the age of 61. He is survived by his wife Anne Torpey and two daughters Emory and Delia.
Dean, originally born in Barrington, Rhode Island was a part of the Hoboken reform movement in the 90s and through the early 2000s. He was known for his sardonic wit and willingness not to pull any punches, even to those community activists or politicians he was inclined to support. He later moved to Weehawken but would still opine from the hills of his new residence on the political goings on in the valley of politically charged Hoboken.
Dean was also much beloved by the music community all over the Hudson County area. In a tribute to his life this Saturday at All Saints Church, located at 7th and Washington Street many local musicians including Julio Fernandez, Gary Frasier, and Gene D Plumber plus many more performed in his honor. Hundreds of people showed up to a packed house to celebrate his life through music and some heartfelt comments from family and close friends. In addition to being a devoted Grateful Dead fan Dean Kemph had a penchant for wearing both tie dye and Hawaiian shirts and many in the crowd wore that garb as a tribute to his eclectic spirit.
Dean was a larger than life figure in the Hudson County scene but first and foremost was a dedicated loving husband and father. You could tell by how devastated his two daughters were at his sudden passing as well as the stoic strength showed by his lovely wife Anne Torpey. Dean was one who challenged his allies and opponents to think critically and while he strived for civility alongside brutal honesty his bluntness had its detractors.
Dean was self-aware of the effect that he had on those who took umbrage with his pointed prose in the following op-ed piece in the Hoboken Reporter…..
“Annie, always an unwitting ‘beneficiary’ of my excesses, wasn’t so lucky as her visit to town yesterday involved run-ins with the Mason camp, including the candidate herself. Which was, undoubtedly, awkward for both but Beth was polite and gracious. My long-time friend, the ever-aspiring [REDACTED]*, wasn’t quite so restrained, calling over her shoulder to Annie that ‘your husband has become an insufferable ass’. Well, I have to take issue with Ines on that one. I’ve ALWAYS been an insufferable ass. And don’t you think Annie, of all people, knows that? Give her some credit, for Pete’s sake. But I think I’ve found the problem there. What [REDACTED] probably meant to say was: ‘your husband is NOW an insufferable ass because, although he has certainly had his criticisms of Dawn, he won’t completely buy into our fire and brimstone view despite what we keep telling him, as opposed to the last 20 years when we agreed on most things and I was rooting on his efforts as an astute and consistent observer’. So, I think we got THAT squared away.“
As for the admirers of Dean for being an “insufferable ass” here is what a few of them had to say on social media:
“I have such admiration for Dean. For a space of time we worked the same waters. When you put pen to paper and try to show the ridiculousness of things without letting go of your humanity or anyone else’s… Dean could do it. I could only do it up to a point. I can’t bear to speak of him in the past tense.”
“As if 2016 couldn’t get any worse, I am unbearably saddened to hear of the passing of longtime Hoboken activist and brilliant humorist Dean Kemph. One of the true trailblazers in what ultimately led to the success of the Hoboken reform movement, Dean always told it exactly like it is and never pulled a single punch – though always leveled criticisms with his signature warm wit, offering constructive satirical reflections rather than emotional teardowns.
Dean and I were not personally close – we got along fine whenever we crossed paths, but did so less frequently over the years, as his departure from Hoboken shortly followed my immersion in it. But, probably unbeknownst to him, I always found him to be a true inspiration, both for his unflinching honestly and his masterful use of the funny bone as an instrument of change. His expatriate letters, always signed ‘best of luck to my adopted and beloved Hoboken’ – were a seasonal highlight I looked forward to every election.
My prayers go out to Dean’s surviving family, who always struck me as truly wonderful people perfectly complementing a peerless family man.”
Given the large turnout on such short notice for his life celebration event at All Saints Church, one can be fairly confident that the enduring legacy of Dean Kemph will not soon be forgotten.
RIP Dean Kemph.
We received a phone call from the person mentioned in the Dean’s column, asking that their name be removed from this piece. hMAG doesn’t typically edit the deceased, but since he wasn’t writing for us and the person named wasn’t essential to the intent of the piece here, we saw fit to remove the name—which can still be found in the original publication.
Furthermore, it should be noted that there may be no bigger compliment you can pay an opinion writer than to call and complain about his obituary… Enjoy the last laugh, Dean.