Tom Kean
Politician, academic leader
Born: April 21, 1935, in New York City
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2013: Public Service

Look up “public service” in a New Jersey glossary and you’ll likely find Tom Kean’s picture. As a state legislator, two-term governor, academic leader, and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Kean served New Jersey—and the nation—with distinction for more than four decades.

Born Thomas Howard Kean, the future governor’s family tree is lush with historic names, including William Livingston, New Jersey’s first constitutional governor. Kean’s mother was a member of the Stuyvesant family, established on this continent by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch colonial governor of Nieuw Amsterdam. His father’s family included a great-great-grandfather who served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Continental Congress; a great-uncle (Hamilton Fish) who served as a U.S. Senator, governor of New York, and U.S. Secretary of State; and another great-uncle who was a congressman and U.S. Senator from New Jersey between 1883 and 1911.

Kean was three when his own father, Robert W. Kean, was elected to the House of Representatives from New Jersey; he would serve for 20 years. The younger Kean enrolled in Princeton University, graduating in 1957 with a B.A. degree in history. He later earned an M.A. degree in history from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Kean’s first exposure to politics came in 1958, while working on his father’s failed bid for the U.S. Senate. Kean taught history for several years, then went to work in 1964 on Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Scranton, a moderate, lost the nomination to the more conservative Barry Goldwater.

Plunging further into politics, Kean sought and won a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly in 1967. In 1972, at the age of 36, he became the youngest speaker of the Assembly in New Jersey history. During his tenure in the Assembly, he established himself as an anti-Vietnam War, pro-environment moderate. In 1977, he failed in a bid for the Republican nomination for governor. Four years later, Kean won the nomination and the governorship, running on promises to create jobs, clean up toxic waste sites, reduce crime, and preserve home rule.

In 1981, Kean won a second gubernatorial term in a landslide. His eight years in office as the state’s 48th governor were distinguished by his support for public education and the arts. He played a central role in the funding and founding of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, and gained national attention for his starring role in a state tourism campaign, popularizing the slogan: “New Jersey and You: Perfect Together.”

Working with Democratic majorities in the legislature, Kean succeeded in pushing through bills to reform education, protect the state’s wetlands, and guard against the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing.  Viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, Kean delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

After leaving the governorship, Kean served as president of Drew University in Madison for 15 years, during which time he significantly increased the school’s endowment, recruited leading faculty, and upgraded the campus infrastructure.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Kean to the advisory board of his One America Initiative, which was designed to ease domestic racial tension. In 2002, President George W. Bush selected Kean as chairman of the 9/11 Commission, which was responsible for investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and providing recommendations to prevent future attacks. In 2004, the commission concluded the FBI and CIA could have done more to predict or prevent the 9/11 tragedy.

Throughout his retirement, Kean has served on numerous foreign policy bodies and corporate boards, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which he chaired.

Intro/Acceptance Video