Former First Selectman Jack Rosenthal Dies At 94

The family of Jack H. Rosenthal announced Tuesday, November 26, that Mr Rosenthal, 94 years old, had died unexpectedly the previous day, November 25, at Masonicare At Newtown, where he had resided for the last two years.

Mr Rosenthal served six terms as First Selectman of Newtown, from 1976 to 1987.

Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra offered her sympathies on hearing of Mr Rosenthal’s death.

“The passing of Jack Rosenthal leaves me with a heavy heart,” said Mrs Llodra. “Jack and Annabelle were among the first folks Bob and I met when we moved to Sandy Hook, in 1970.  Annabelle became a favorite of ours for service at the local bank and we used to especially enjoy running into Jack while grocery shopping and then spending the next many, many minutes listening to his stories and funny observations of times past.  Jack had a lovely, mischievous smile and a great sense of community. He will be missed by many. God speed Jack.”

 James Gaston, selectman, added, “Jack Rosenthal will be dearly missed. His spirit runs though all of us in Newtown. His firm handshake, broad smile and never-give-up perseverance made Newtown a better place, and all of us better human beings. Our deepest sympathies to his wonderful family.”

Mr Rosenthal was born in Bronx, N.Y., August 6, 1919, the son of Irving Rosenthal and Ann Shafter Rosenthal. He was raised in Yonkers, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1937, where he was on the basketball and baseball teams.

He enlisted in the US Army in early 1941 and was initially stationed at Walter Reed Hospital where he trained as a medical technician. He also served in North Africa with the 69th Station Hospital and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was honorably discharged from the Army at the end of World War II, in late 1945.

After the war, he began a 30-year career in the insurance industry, first with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Yonkers, and in the Danbury office, when he was transferred in 1952. He moved his family to Connecticut, first in Bethel and then to Newtown, in 1953. 

He had started visiting Connecticut in 1936 with his friends, the Gillettes, in Roxbury and had been determined to make Connecticut his home one day.

Mr Rosenthal quickly became active in Newtown, beginning with the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Company, where he was eventually elected company president.

He was encouraged to get involved in local politics by the late First Selectman A. Fenn Dickinson, and the late Democratic Town Chairman, Attorney John Holian. After the tragic death of First Selectman Dickinson in an accident during the construction of Sandy Hook School, Mr Rosenthal was nominated to be the Democratic candidate for first selectman in 1955. He lost a close election to the late First Selectman Ed Coleman, but was elected to the Board of Selectmen. This began 42 years of service to the Town of Newtown in elected office, including four years as a selectman, from 1955 to 1959, and 13 years as a member of the Board of Finance, from 1962 to 1975.

In 1975, he was elected to the first of six terms as first selectman. Mr Rosenthal was also elected to three terms on the Legislative Council, ending in 1997. Over the years, he served on three Charter Revision Commissions, the last one from 2000 to 2001.

In addition to working in the insurance industry, he and his wife, Annabelle, owned the Newtown Toy Center in the Queen Street shopping center with his late brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Yale and Amelia Parker, from 1955 to 1960. His last employment was as a part-time administrator for the Newtown Chamber of Commerce, with an office in a familiar place — Edmond Town Hall.

A staunch Democrat, Mr Rosenthal also was a member of the Democratic Town Committee for many years and served as its chairman for a number of years. He is remembered by former Democratic Town Committee Chairman Earl Smith, Jr, as a good leader for the town.

“He always wanted to make sure everything was going well. He was concerned about all of the boards and commissions, and made time to attend the meetings. Jack was a hands-on politician,” Mr Smith said, and one who readily reached across the aisle to Republicans in town.

Mr Smith was the Democratic Town Committee chairman who nominated Mr Rosenthal for his first successful run for the position of first selectman in Newtown, and for each one after that.

“Jack was a very caring person. He had a real love for Newtown,” said Mr Smith.

An avid baseball player and fan, Mr Rosenthal was a player and manager of the Newtown Men’s Baseball Team in the 1950s and 1960s. He was very proud of the fact that in 1967, at the age of 48, after many years of “retirement” as a player, the team was one short and he had to play first base — and then proceeded to get five hits in five at-bats. He carried a laminated news article of that game for many years.

“Jack was a good friend for many years,” said Judge William Lavery, who served as town attorney from 1976 to 1981. “Jack was a man of great integrity, who loved and cared for this town. He worked 24 hours a day, seven days of the week,” Judge Lavery said.

“He was a wonderful human being, well loved by everybody, and who cared for everybody. Even after he was no longer first selectman,” recalled Judge Lavery, “Jack still cared for the town and remained involved in many activities. He was a great guy, and will be missed.”

During his two year convalescence at Masonicare, Mr Rosenthal made many new friends among the staff and residents and was a fixture in the lobby, smiling at visitors.

A testimonial from his grandson, John, is a fine remembrance: “Jack Rosenthal, my grandfather, died today. For those who knew Jack, speed him to the beyond with thoughts of love and your good wishes. He was sweet, funny, generous, and given to a steadiness of integrity that was astounding to witness. He was totally charming and a first-class Mensch. Jack lived a long, good life, full of love and grace. I am grateful to eternity that he was my grandfather.”

In addition to his parents, Mr Rosenthal was predeceased by Annabelle, his loving wife of almost 54 years; a daughter, Carole Susan; and a brother, Stanley J. Rosenthal.

His wife Theresa Q. Rosenthal of Sandy Hook and her brother and sisters; a son, Herb Rosenthal and daughter-in-law, Michelle, of Newtown; four grandchildren, Julia David and her husband, John, and their three children of Virginia Beach, Va., Daniel Rosenthal and his wife, Meri, and their three children of Newtown; John Rosenthal of Newtown and Hudson, N.Y, and Sarah Sullivan and her husband, Bill, and two children of Decatur, Ga.; two step-grandchildren, Lauren Collingwood and her husband, Jeremy, and two children of Durham, Conn.; and Michael Vastarelli of Newtown;  a brother, Arthur L. Rosenthal of Chandler, Ariz.; a sister-in law, Janeth Rosenthal of Briar Cliff Manor, N.Y.; many loving nieces and nephews; and former daughter-in-law, Kathleen Hughes of Pawley’s Island, S.C., all survive Mr Rosenthal.

Friends and family may pay respects Wednesday, December 4, at the Honan Funeral Home, 58 Main Street, Newtown, from 4 to 8 pm. Funeral services and interment in Newtown Village Cemetery will be private. A memorial service will take place at the Newtown Meeting House, Main Street, Newtown, Thursday, December 5, at 11:30 am.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Newtown Scholarship Association at www.newtownscholarship.org, or The Masonicare At Newtown Quality of Life Fund, 139 Toddy Hill Road, Newtown CT 06470.

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