Eldon Priestley, Morristown civic voice, dies months after crash that killed his wife

Eldon Priestley
Eldon Priestley


Eldon B. Priestley was the sort of man whose decency and compassion inspired admiration and made Morristown a better place, according to friends who will pay their final respects this weekend.

Priestley, 75, died on Dec. 6, 2018, at the Clara Burke Subacute Nursing Home, in Plymouth Meeting, PA, of complications from injuries sustained in August, in a multi-vehicle accident that killed his wife, Fern Priestley, 77, and another motorist.

The Priestleys were on their way to church near Allentown, Pa. The crash–at a dangerous intersection in Upper Saucon Township– remains under investigation, a spokeswoman for the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office said this week.

“Every morning I get up and think it was a dream. I don’t believe both of them are gone,” said Roseann Loia, the Priestleys’ neighbor in the 40 Park condos across from the Morristown Green.

Eldon, a retired ExxonMobil research executive, recruited Loia to serve on the condo association board, where he was president since moving to town from Mendham in 2010.

Loia quickly found herself in awe of Eldon’s creative approach to problem-solving, and his calm demeanor and unwavering manners even when neighbors were not as cordial.

Morristown resident Eldon Priestley raises concerns about noise from proposed restaurant on DeHart Street. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, march 31, 2016
Eldon Priestley raises question at Morristown council meeting about noise from a proposed restaurant on DeHart Street, March 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I witnessed in both he and Fern lives conducted with the highest level of integrity, compassion and concern for others. The grace they exhibited in all situations is not commonly found in people and serves as the greatest example for all of us,” said Loia. 

The Priestleys were not afraid to speak out at council meetings when they felt the concentration of bars on South Street was impacting residents’ quality of life.

“I will miss his enthusiasm and his strong advocacy for doing good,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty, extending the town’s “deepest sympathy” to the Priestley family.

“He was just as of a person as you will know,” added Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes 40 Park. “His commitment, perspective and wisdom will be missed.”

Born in Trochu, Alberta, Canada, Eldon married Fern J. Sharp in 1961 in Calgary, Alberta. Eldon was studying chemistry at the University of Alberta; in 1965, the couple moved to Pasadena, Ca., where Eldon continued his studies at the California Institute of Technology, earning his PhD in physical chemistry four years later.

Fern J. Priestley
Fern J. Priestley

Next stop: Boston, and postdoctoral work at Harvard University in solid state physics. The couple moved in 1971 to Princeton, NJ, where Eldon joined RCA’s David Sarnoff Research Laboratory and was an inventor of the first commercially viable liquid crystal display, according to his obituary.

Eldon spent the rest of his career at Exxon Research & Engineering, retiring in 2006 as senior director of the ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Technology Center, after posts in New Jersey, Texas and Louisiana.

The Priestleys raised two sons and were active in their church.

Donna Gaffney, a friend of the couple, noted that their deaths followed the passing of two other Morristown pillars, Larry Cohen and Wendell Brady.

“Whether they lived here for a lifetime or were relatively new residents, they were dedicated to making life better for all of us.  I hope that some of us can carry on their tradition—to raise our voices and speak up to preserve and enhance the historic community where we live,” Gaffney said in a message shared with neighbors.

In a world where it’s easier to leave tough problems for others, she said, “these four wonderful human beings embraced Morristown as their home—and did not hesitate to support others, participate and speak out when they had concerns.”

The best way to honor their memories is to emulate their examples, Gaffney said.

“We cannot leave the work of our community to the few who might be most impacted by any singular issue or courageous enough to make their voices heard, even if they are not directly affected….We have to ask ourselves, who will now stand with us?  The answer is clear. We must stand together—we are all Morristown.” 

Roseann Loia said she will strive to embody Eldon Priestley’s legacy. Serving with him on their condo board was among the most profound experiences of her life, she said, and she told him so.   

“He always responded, ‘keep growing,'” Loia recounted. “Although that is what I will most miss, I will indeed honor him and ‘keep growing.'”

Eldon Priestley is survived by sons Scott, and his wife Jennifer, and Brian, and his wife Laura; grandchildren Diana, Carolyn, Benjamin, and Lyla Rae; his sister, Shirley Mundorf and her husband, Roy; and many nieces and nephews. His half-brother, Ralph Priestley, predeceased him in 1992.

Visiting hours are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, from 6-8 p.m. at the Par-Troy Funeral Home, 95 Parsippany Road, Parsippany, NJ, 973–887–3235. The Funeral Service is a 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown.

 In lieu of flowers, the family suggests considering a donation in memory of Eldon either to:

Autism Speaks (online, under “Get Involved,” click Memorial & Tributes), OR the childhood pain program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (Please make check out to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and note “in memory of Eldon B. Priestley.” Mail checks to CHoP Foundation, P.O. Box 781352, Philadelphia, PA 19178. Or online, please click on “make a gift.”)

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  1. The world lost two wonderful people when Fern and Eldon Priestly were taken. We knew them and their two boys when they lived in Baton Rouge a few years ago and were part of our Church Family. They were a joy to be around and so very useful. So sorry for Scott, Bryan and their families. Our sympathy goes out to them.