Remembering Two People Who Died Too Young

By James Devine

When Whitney Houston died last week, the world was shocked.

One of the world’s best-selling artists from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Houston turned out such hits as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” ”How Will I Know,” ”The Greatest Love of All” and “I Will Always Love You.”

Some government officials discussed the possibility of opening up the Prudential Center for a memorial in Newark, but the family — including her mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick — ruled out a public memorial service.

Instead, Houston’s funeral will be an invitation-only service in the church where she first showcased her singing talents as a child, at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church. Her only child, daughter Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, will turn 19 on March 4.

Houston, 48, died Feb. 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in California, while she was preparing to engage in some media interviews and perform at a party hosted by producer Clive Davis, marking the day before the 2012 Grammy Awards.

“They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell,” Funeral home owner Carolyn Whigham said. “The family thanks all the fans, the friends and the media, but this time is their private time.”

A somewhat smaller world was shaken in a similar fashion a few years ago, when Joseph Suliga of Linden suddenly met death in a tragic car accident.

Sitting in the backseat of a friend’s car, Suliga’s neck snapped and he died instantly when another driver ran into the parked vehicle. He was 47 and it was news that was hard to believe.

Those of us who knew him could attest that Joe Suliga was a force of nature. His mind never stopped churning up ideas and his action made life better for people for whom he cared.

Rising through the political ranks from being the youngest person even elected to the Linden Board of Education, Suliga became a city councilman, county freeholder, state assemblyman and state senator.

As City Treasurer, he left Linden found itself sitting on reserves of nearly 50 million ~ all of which was squandered before the 2007-2009 economic crisis because he was no longer here to shepherd the municipal government into behaving resposibly.

While he may have played hard and partied recklessly at times, Suliga was a smart, reliable and responsible government leader whose influence is sorely missed today, seven years after his abrupt departure.

Born on Christmas Day — December 25, 1957 — Suliga was a gift to Linden and the entire state, most of all to those of us who knew him.

Joe and Whitney both died too soon but they leave us richer for having had a chance to bask in their energy and vibrancy. We miss them but when we remember them, we keep them alive in our hearts and that is the highest tribute we can pay.

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