Judge June Strelecki died on March 9 at age 84 after a lifetime of achievement. She was a brilliant student; one of the first women to attend and graduate from Harvard Law School; the first woman to prosecute a murder case; one of the architects of the public defender system; the first woman to be appointed as a deputy attorney general; and the first woman in the country to head a motor vehicle agency. She also ran a neighborhood law practice before her appointment to the bench in 1974. At the time, she was one of two or three female judges in the entire system and for that eason would cast a long shadow.
The rest is history. She performed splendidly in every single assignment. Although she loved every judicial post she held, she had a soft spot for family issues and especially for the children whose rights she championed for a lifetime. Her judicial tenure ended with her mandatory retirement in 1998, after which she served on recall until age 80. She then began an entirely new career in the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Her tenure as a public servant alone is one for the record books. But that only tells what she was — not who she was.
Judge Strelecki had within her what Albert Camus described as an "eternal, invincible summer." Because of it, she was upbeat and optimistic for a lifetime. She believed she could change things and she tried to do so. She was fearless; spoke truth to power; and could be counted on to stand up where others shrank back from controversy. She was glitteringly intelligent, witty, funny, voluble, wildly opinionated and the very best company imaginable.
Her considerable biography omits one of the things for which she will be most remembered: her mentorship and kindnesses to the newly appointed and often shell-shocked young judges. As Mark Twain said: "Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions; small people always do that — but the really great make you feel that you too can be great."
You did not have to keep away from June Strelecki. She supported and husbanded the talents of scores of young judges and acted as their cheerleader in every courthouse in which she sat. Like a shepherd, she "gathered them safely home in her arms" and they never forgot her. If it could be said that the gathering at her wake had a theme, it was gratitude for her generous spirit. Altogether a life well lived.