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2024 Lifetime Achievement Award Richard Codey, BA'81, H'05

The Honorable Richard Codey has carved out a niche in New Jersey's political history that will be hard to match. Not only is Codey the longest-serving state legislator in the history of the Garden State, he served as either President or co-President of the senate for a total of eight years. He also served as the state's 53rd Governor from 2004-06. Codey was ahead of his time in recognizing and championing support for those suffering from mental health issues. A previous FDU PINNACLE Society honoree, he also received an Honorary Degree from his alma mater in 2005.

The Honorable Richard Codey is a former governor and Senate president who began his career in state government in 1973 when he was elected to the Assembly at age 26, becoming, at the time, the youngest person ever elected to the State Legislature. He served four Assembly terms before being elected to the State Senate in 1981. He was re-elected 11 times and recently completed his final term as State Senator in January capping an incredible political career that saw him become the longest-serving state legislator in New Jersey history.

Codey served as senate co-president from 2002 to 2004 when the upper house was evenly split 20-20 between Democratic and Republican senators. When Democrats gained the majority in 2004, he was selected senate president for the 211th, 212th and 213th legislative sessions. When Governor James E. McGreevey resigned before his term expired, Codey became the state’s 53rd governor on Nov. 16, 2004.

As a legislator, Codey advocated for better care and treatment for individuals with mental illnesses. Early in his legislative career, he exposed problems in state psychiatric hospitals when he assumed the name of a deceased convicted criminal and was hired at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. His undercover operation received national attention and led to reforms that significantly improved the quality of care and quality of life for patients in mental health facilities.

As governor, he continued to bring the struggles of individuals with mental illness to the forefront of the public’s attention. His first official act was to establish the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health to report on the direction New Jersey should take in delivering improved services to its mentally ill. During his 14 months as governor, he was successful in implementing more than 90 percent of the task force’s recommendations. Along with his wife, Mary Jo, he launched a statewide postpartum depression awareness campaign. He also sponsored legislation that requires doctors and healthcare professionals to screen and educate all new mothers for postpartum depression. These efforts would later see the couple create The Codey Fund for Mental Health, an organization dedicated to removing the stigma of mental illness while working to improve access to high-quality care for those afflicted.

During his governorship, he also signed numerous landmark laws including the Smoke Free Air Act, GPS tracking for convicted sex offenders, and a minimum  wage increase, and played a critical role in advancing medical research and scientific progress in New Jersey. Under his watch, New Jersey became the first state to award public funds to support human embryonic stem cell research, and the first to establish a public umbilical and placental stem cell bank.

Throughout his four decades in public service, Codey has worked to make New Jersey communities and schools safer. He sponsored the nation’s first statewide assault weapons ban and childproof handgun law, and, as governor, he created a task force to examine steroid use and prevention, and sponsored bills establishing random drug testing for student-athletes and establishing training for coaches to identify the symptoms of steroid abuse. He also sponsored legislation to better protect student-athletes from sustained health effects of concussion and other brain and head injuries.

Codey has sponsored legislation reforming New Jersey’s health care laws to cut costs while protecting quality of care. He helped establish the state’s Charity Care program, which helps hospitals treat uninsured patients, and a program that provides prescription drug cost assistance for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Senator Codey was born in Orange, NJ. He is a 1981 graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and earned an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 2005 and is a member of FDU’s prestigious PINNACLE Society. He was a teacher in the East Orange public school system before joining his family’s business, Frank J. Codey & Son Funeral Directors. He was president of an insurance company for 25 years prior to selling the business in 2008.

He and his wife, the former Ms. Rolli, are the parents of two sons, Kevin and Christopher, and grandparents of Brooke Codey.

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