Leah Tousman

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Leah Tousman

AGE: 77 • Edison

Leah "Jane" Tousman, 77, an environmental and political watchdog, beloved by the community for battling on its behalf for over 40 years, died Saturday, March 22, 2014 at Haven Hospice at JFK Medical Center, Edison, after suffering a debilitating stroke in February. "Having worked with Jane for 25 years, I would like to say Jane has been a quiet, well-articulated leader in environmental movement and one of the singular forces responsible for the preserving the Dismal Swamp, closing the Kin-Buc Landfill Superfund site and other toxic waste sites in Edison and Central New Jersey," said executive director of Edison Wetlands Association and chairman of the Dismal Swamp Preservation Commission, Robert Spiegel.Tousman got her start in politics volunteering with the League of Women Voters shortly after moving in the 1970s with her husband and their three children to South Plainfield from Hong Kong, where Daniel Tousman worked as a marketing executive in the pharmaceutical industry.

A short time later, they moved to North Edison, where she and her children often enjoyed the varied habitat of the Dismal Swamp, including its pristine wetlands. But when one of Middlesex County's largest parcels of open space was threatened by the proposed construction of 2,000 residential units in 1984, Tousman and her four other housewives formed Save our Swamp. When not financing their cause out of their own pockets, Tousman and her S.O.S. colleagues held yard and bake sales to raise funds to pay lawyers, engineers and environmental experts throughout their eight year fight. S.O.S. forced a compromise that resulted in construction of far fewer units than originally proposed, saved hundreds of acres of wetlands, and paved the way for the 1,240 acre Dismal Swamp Conservation Area.

S.O.S. co-founder Lynne Braine said Tousman always amazed her and fellow members Chris Sepka, Janet Drosdek and Pat Orzack with the ease and speed with which she was able to obtain public document s20 years before the passage of the state's Open Public Records Act. Walt Stochel, who worked with her to protect Oak Tree Pond from a similar development deal, said Tousman's meticulous records from 1970s and 1980s often came in handy years later. "She has files of stuff," Stochel said. "I would ask her, 'Jane, do you have anything on this in your files?' and hours later, files would be at my door with info from the 1970s. And things were different in the 1970s in Edison. There was no Open Public Records Act, so getting the information from the township was not easy, but she found ways to get the info and make things public. She sent information to generations of reporters."

Many of Tousman's fellow board members of New Jersey Sierra Club for the past 18 yeas advised to end her no-win fight against a Jehovah's Witness church over a small parcel of the Dismal Swamp. Tousman remained undaunted and positive, however, even when the Township Council and State Department of Enviromental Protection awarded the parcel to the church. Only Tousman wasn't surprised when the county unexpectedly vindicated her and several other protestors by recently purchasing the from the church reclaiming ot as open space said Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey Sierra Club. An upbeat fighter's spirit had enabled her to overcome many setbacks and obstacles. "She was a fighter who never gave up," Jeff Tittel said. "That's why she's done so many good things and saved so many important places around Edison. In so many cases, she was fighting the Democratic machine and politically connected developers and she would always wind up winning." Former Mayor Antonia Ricigliano agreed. "Jane and I have known each other since the 1970s, when some of our children were in school together and we were active in PTA," Ricigliano said. "Over the years, we have worked together on many local issues. Jane has always been a stalwart individual whose interest in and commitment to the environment and Edison Township has been unwavering."

A Republican councilwomen in the early 1990s, Tousman lost an Assembly bid to Democratic incumbent Barbara Buono and Democratic challenger Peter Barnes, Jr. in 1995. Four years later she was appointed to te township Open Space Committee by then-council president Peter Barnes, III, now 18th Legislative District's state senator and son of her Assembly opponent. "She's a Republican and I'm a Democrat, but I've never had anything but the utmost respect for Jane and always held her in high esteem," Barnes said. "She's probably the most liberal Republican I've ever known," added Stochel, a fellow founding member of the townships Open Space Committee. "She was liberal when it came to environmental and women's issues, but fiscally conservative. I just saw her at the Feb. 6th open space meeting and she was chipper. Her death has left a big void in the environmental community in the town and county." Tousman had remained active with the open spac committee, as well as the Sierra Club board.

Rep. Frank J. Pallone, Jr., D-NJ, was among the many who expressed appreciation for her longtime commitment to her community. "I was saddened to hear of Jane Tousman's condition," Pallone said. "Jane had been a tireless advocate for improving and protecting Edison and our state's environment, and I always enjoyed working with her over the years. My thoughts are with Jane and her family."

Predeceased by her parents, Henry and Grace (Burlowitz) Kupferberg, she is survived her husband of 55 years, Daniel Tousman, her daughters Amy Tousman and Lori Hull, of Hawaii, and her sons David, of Pennsylvania, and Stuart, of Virginia, her brother Richard Kupferberg and her sister Maxine Kupferberg.

Funeral services will take place today,(Monday, March 24, 2014), at 1:00pm at Temple Emanu-EL, 100 James Street, Edison, NJ. Interment at Beth Israel Cemetery, Woodbridge. Memorial contributions may be made in her memory to the New Jersey Sierra club. Arrangements are under the direction of the Crabiel Parkwest Funeral chapel, 239 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ.

Published in Home News Tribune on Mar. 24, 2014
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