Remembering Trailblazing Ralph Padilla: Mayor, Law Enforcement Officer, Community Leader


Photo of Ralph Padilla courtesy of PRAC of Southern New Jersey Facebook.


PITTSGROVE — Trailblazing public servant and leader Ralph Padilla, the CEO of the influential South Jersey nonprofit Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey, died on Friday, his wife said. He was 58.

Padilla, the first Hispanic appointed to serve as the chief of a county prosecutor’s office in the state of New Jersey when he served in that post in Salem County in 2005 and the first Latino mayor in Pittsgrove, had received a liver transplant in the fall.

Hispanic Leadership and Community

“As most of you know, my beloved has passed,” his wife Elba Padilla posted Sunday night. “Words can express the loss that I am feeling but I am also feeling so much love from all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being in Ralph’s life.

“You were all a part of his journey and part of the legacy that he was creating. As he always asked, ‘What’s your legacy?’ He fought a good fight … Pa’lante Palanca. Love you all.”

READ Ralph Padilla’s Obituary HERE

When Padilla was elected mayor of Pittsgrove in 2013, he became the first Latino to serve as mayor of a city in Salem County’s 100-year-plus history.

Padilla was a long-serving law enforcement officer and detective who won local, state and national awards for his service, including recognitions from the Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshal’s Office.

A Lifetime of ‘Firsts’

A well-known community advocate and supporter, his leadership was sought by numerous organizations on their boards. Marked by a lifetime of “firsts,” Padilla often became either the first Hispanic to serve on many of those boards or the first to assume a leadership position.

He became the first Hispanic to serve as board chair of Memorial Hospital in Salem County. He also served as board chair of the United Way of Salem County and as president of the New Jersey State Chiefs’ of Prosecutor’s Office Detective/Investigators Association.

He served on the Salem County Community College Foundation Board, the Salem County Chamber of Commerce and other various organizations.

What They Are Saying

Comments on the news of Padilla’s death came from community and public office leaders around the region, mostly on social media.

“Our team has had the privilege of working alongside Ralph and PRAC of Southern New Jersey on many occasions, and his dedication and genuine desire to be of service to Salem County residents was palpable,” June Sieber, Salem County Department of Health and Human Services director, said on Facebook. “We have no doubt that his legacy of commitment, support, and service will leave a lasting impact on our community.”

Salem County Sheriff Chuck Miller said that Padilla was and had remained a valued member of the county’s law enforcement community and will be missed.

“The news of Chief Ralph Padilla’s passing has deeply saddened all of us,” Miller said on social media. “I extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of a true Salem County icon … His dedication, courage, and commitment to service will always be remembered. His contributions have left a lasting impact, and his absence will be profoundly felt by all who had the privilege of working alongside him and knowing him personally.”

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said: “He was a good man who helped so many people. Praying prayers of comfort for you and your family.”

Cumberland County Commissioner Victoria Groetsch-Lods added her condolences on Facebook as well.

“I’m so sorry. Ralph was uniquely kind, intelligent, and genuine in his nature,” Groetsch-Lods said. “I always appreciated him. His presence will be missed, and, of course, remembered by those who loved him best.”

Rowan University executive and PRAC board member Mayra Arroyo said, “My sincerest and deepest condolences to the Padilla Familia. Ralph was a great leader and servant to the community.”

Myrna Santiago, of the Puerto Rican Civic Association of Hammonton, shared condolences on behalf of the organization.

“Ralph was a driving force in the Hispanic Community and has helped our organization in the past,” Santiago said. “We, the PRCA, thank him and PRAC for their contributions! He will be missed dearly. Ralph was an amazing man and leader in the Hispanic community. May God Bless him and your family.”

Edwin Alicea, Vineland’s director of public safety, said Padilla saw the bigger picture in his work.

“Chief Padilla left a legacy of service before self,” Alicea said. “He was an inspiration to many.”

Inspira Health Network President Amy Mansue added: “A great man and better friend. My heartfelt sympathy to his family. He gave so much to so many.”

Last fall, Padilla had surgery after battling with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD, and recovered at Jefferson/Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia. He had dealt with multiple surgical procedures, treatments and hospital stays because of the disease, which was diagnosed in 2013.

READ: Ralph Padilla recovering from liver transplant

The Padilla family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Gift of Life Howie’s House.

“I chose this nonprofit because of their accommodations,” the family said. “I was able to be with Ralph every day and have a 20-minute drive as opposed to an hour. Their mission means a lot to us and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate Ralph’s memory.

“Gift of Life Howie’s House serves as a ‘home away from home’ for organ transplant patients and their families by providing affordable lodging, meals, and supportive services to those who travel to Philadelphia for transplant-related care.”

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