Services this weekend for Fern Priestley, advocate for quality of life in downtown Morristown, killed in auto accident

Fern J. Priestley
Fern J. Priestley

Friends and relatives will pay their final respects this weekend to Morristown resident Fern Priestley, who was killed in a car crash near Allentown, Pa, on Aug. 12, 2018.

Priestley, 77, and her husband Eldon, appeared before the town council in recent years to advocate on behalf of downtown residents concerned about the proliferation of bars and their impact on residents’ quality of life.

Eldon Priestley remains in a Pennsylvania hospital, according to a family acquaintance.

People at the 40 Park complex, where the Priestleys were active in the condo association, said they are devastated by the loss.

“Fern was one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known—so kind, thoughtful and always interested in what was happening in our lives,” said resident Donna Gaffney.

“She was so incredibly proud of her grandchildren and excitedly told me about them and their accomplishments. Fern will be missed, not only by her family but by all of us here at 40 Park.”

Fern Priestley’s wake is scheduled from 6 pm to 8 pm this Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Par-Troy Funeral Home, 95 Parsippany Road, Parsippany, (973) 887–3235. A funeral service will be held at the funeral home on Monday, Aug. 20, at 10 am.

The multi-vehicle crash occurred shortly before 9 am on a Sunday in Upper Saucon Township in Lehigh County. Fern Priestly was a passenger in her vehicle. Another motorist, Tim A. Hank, 51, of Pennsburg, Pa., also died.

Press accounts of the accident suggested as many as five vehicles may have been involved. The Allentown Morning Call, citing the Lehigh County district attorney, said authorities believed a vehicle heading westbound on Center Valley Parkway struck a vehicle in which the Priestleys were riding on southbound Route 309.

Their vehicle spun into the northbound side of Route 309 and was hit by Hank’s vehicle, according to the report.

The accident remains under investigation, a spokesperson for the district attorney said on Friday.

A fatal crash occurred at the same intersection days before.

“I’m shocked…it’s a tragedy,” Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said of Fern Priestley’s death.

Morristown Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes 40 Park, has known the Priestleys for years.

“Fern was a kind women who enjoyed living and being involved in our Morristown community with her husband Eldon,” Iannaccone said.

“No one just referred to Fern and Eldon individually; we always referred to them as Fern and Eldon–a great team who chose to remain involved in their new community during their retirement years. Morristown was blessed to have their insight and leadership. The loss of Fern is a tragic loss; especially for Eldon. Fern and Eldon’s friends and neighbors here in Morristown have both of them in their thoughts and prayers.”

Former Council President Rebecca Feldman presided over many of the hearings where the Priestleys articulated their views. A few years earlier, in 2010, the couple were among the first condo buyers at 40 Park, a redevelopment of the former Epstein’s department store that helped revitalize the area near the historic Morristown Green.

“Fern quickly became a calm and understanding First Ward presence even as the new homeowners association worked out some of the challenges which go along with being ‘homesteaders’ in our rapidly developing downtown,” Feldman said.

“Let’s hope that people looking back in 20 years will be able to say that this Town Council had the wisdom and foresight to control the bar scene while it still could and in so doing prevented our town from woes and suffering that other, less fortunate, towns experienced,” the Priestleys wrote in a letter to the council in June 2014.

Fern J. (née-Sharp) Priestley was born in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, and grew up in Alberta. She married Eldon Priestley in 1961 in Calgary, Alberta.

They subsequently lived in Pasadena, Ca.; Boston, Mass.; central New Jersey; Houston, Texas; and Baton Rouge, La. They moved moved to Mendham, in 1993, and then, to Morristown.

Fern Priestley’s obituary describes her as “a loving and dedicated wife, mother, and grandmother who took wonderful care of her family” and was very active in her church.

In addition to Eldon, her husband of 56 years, Fern Priestley is survived by her sons: Scott and his wife, Jennifer, and Brian and his wife, Laura; her brothers: David and Raymond Sharp and his wife, Anne; her sister, Joan Ralph; and grandchildren Diana, Carolyn, Benjamin, and Lyla Rae.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in memory of Fern to either Autism Speaks or to the childhood pain program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (If donating via mail, please make check out to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, indicate “in memory of Fern J. Priestley,” and mail to: CHoP Foundation, P.O. Box 781352, Philadelphia, PA 19178, or call (267) 426–5332.)

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  1. To Eldon& Fern Family , Our hearts been keeping in touch how your Father is~ Know you each will miss your dear Mother. We are so Thankful for life they been to Our Many Friends and all those beautiful years! Their light is burning ~ and we are Thankful over & over for their Faithful Life!! we willbe thinking and we send our Comforting TLC! Friends in Need Friends indeed all our life..
    In Tender Loving care Ron, Sandy ( Annabel) Burk McClure , Pa