Crabiel, 78, devoted life to public service

Longtime freeholder director dies weeks after re-election


Middlesex County has lost a long-standing and perhaps its most prominent public servant.

David B. Crabiel David B. Crabiel Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel died Monday after being rushed to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick that morning. He was 78 years old.

“He was one of my best friends,” said Freeholder Deputy Director Stephen “Pete” Dalina. “He was a good man, a good person. He always worked for the people in Middlesex County.”

Crabiel, a 27-year veteran of the freeholder board who was re-elected to a new term last month, was hospitalized for several days last month, but had returned home in time to spend Thanksgiving at home with his family. Dalina said he was shocked to receive the news, since he had spoken to Crabiel only a few days prior.

The longtime freeholder and funeral home owner was a resident of Milltown, where his family of public servants first settled in 1852. His own service to the community began in the town over half a century ago, when at age 16 he became the youngest member of the Milltown Rescue Squad. He won a seat on the Borough Council in 1960 and took the mayoral post seven years later, serving in that role for the next 11 years.

“He never took a penny as the mayor of Milltown,” said Old Bridge Mayor and Middlesex County Treasurer Jim Phillips, who spent time as a freeholder with Crabiel. “He did it for the love of the people.”

From there, Crabiel went on to be appointed to the Board of Chosen Freeholders. He served from 1978 to 1991, when he lost a re-election bid, then took a seat again two years later. Crabiel served as freeholder director for 13 years and finance chairman for 16 years.

“He was the last hurrah,” Phillips said. “There will never be another one like him. He is the last in a great line of public servants.”

Dalina agreed, saying Crabiel cared greatly for county residents. One of his major ongoing goals was to continually cut the budget and lower taxes for the people of Middlesex County, Dalina said.

Another of his passions was open space preservation. Dalina said he worked alongside Crabiel and Phillips to create the county’s Open Space Preservation Committee. He often touted the county’s preservation of 7,000 acres, and said it was his goal to get that number to 10,000.

Of the many projects on which Dalina and Crabiel worked together, Dalina said the creation of 15 parks throughout the county was a notable one.

Phillips recalled working with Crabiel over the years, saying the county figurehead often raised his voice during conversations to get his point across, and that he was strong in his convictions. One could always count on him saying what he meant, according to Phillips.

“A handshake with David Crabiel was stronger than any piece of paper,” Phillips said. “When he gave you his word on something, you could count on it. That’s the way he conducted government, and that’s the way he was as an individual.”

Phillips said Crabiel was not only an admired colleague, but also a good friend.

The political arena was not Crabiel’s only area of service to others. He was honorary chairman of the Melvin H. Motolinsky Research Foundation; honorary co-chairman of the Middlesex County Human Relations Commission; member of the Cerebral Palsy Association board of directors;

member of Keep Middlesex Moving Inc.; member of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Commission Inc.; and member of the Advisory Board of the Raritan Valley Workshop, among other associations.

His legacy was ensured even before his death, with the creation of the David B. Crabiel Scholarship Foundation. Created by friends in 1992, the foundation awards an annual scholarship to a Middlesex County high school student pursuing higher education.

Aside from his public service, Crabiel was a successful businessman. He founded Crabiel Inc., which operates six funeral homes in the state.

Crabiel is survived by his wife Mary, five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.