JAC Mourns the Loss of Senator Frank Lautenberg


Pictured above, left to right: Joy Malkus, Marcia Balonick, Senator Frank Laudenberg, and Betsy Sheerr.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg Dies at 89

We are deeply saddened by the loss of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, a longtime friend to the JAC family. Lautenberg died June 3, 2013, of viral pneumonia at age 89.

Frank Lautenberg was raised in poverty in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. He joined the Army at 18 and served in Europe during World War II. After the war, he graduated from Columbia University with the help of the G.I. Bill.  He and two friends founded Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which today employees 57,000 people worldwide and 4,500 in New Jersey. He was chairman and chief executive officer of ADP when he left business to enter politics in 1982.

Lautenberg was the first Jewish person elected to statewide office in New Jersey. He first served in the United States Senate from 1982 to 2001; after a brief retirement, he was re-elected to the Senate and served from 2003 until his death. Lautenberg was the last serving veteran of World War II in the United States Senate, the oldest member of the Senate before his death, and he held the record for the number of votes cast by a New Jersey Senator. 

Lautenberg was named to the President’s commission on the Holocaust in the 1970s. He served as national chair for the United Jewish Appeal (now known as the Jewish Federations of North America). He established the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and served on the American Jewish Committee’s national board of directors, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s board of governors and the Jewish Agency for Israel’s executive committee.

One of his most significant achievements in the Senate is the Lautenberg Amendment, a vital lifeline for historically persecuted groups. First enacted in 1989, the amendment allows religious minorities to point to historic persecution toward their minority religion, rather than having to demonstrate personal persecution. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Jews were able to emigrate from the former Soviet Union to the United States as refugees fleeing religious persecution. The legislation has since allowed persecuted religious minorities fleeing Iran, Burma and Vietnam.

Lautenberg was a frequent critic of the tobacco industry, and he fought for greater government spending on transportation and the environment. He wrote the laws banning smoking on domestic airline flights and setting the national minimum drinking age of 21. 

In April, Lautenberg introduced legislation to ensure that basic health care benefits are offered to women in the Peace Corps and provide them with the same standard of health care that most women with federal health care coverage already receive. Lautenberg's bill corrects the current inequity in law that prevents the Peace Corps from offering any abortion coverage for volunteers, even for volunteers who have been sexually assaulted or when the life of the woman is endangered.

Lautenberg had been plagued by health ailments since his diagnosis with a treatable form of blood cancer in 2010. In April, he released a statement that he would be working from home as the Senate met to debate gun-control legislation. Lautenberg, a staunch gun-control advocate, authored several bills to keep domestic abusers from being able to buy guns. So, in spite of his illness, he returned to Washington in May to vote to pass the background check bill.

By all accounts, Frank Lautenberg truly was an amazing man. He will be deeply missed.