Leader. Visionary. Friend.
These were just some of the words used to describe Stephen Wiley, a former lawyer, philanthropist, organizer and Morristown native, who was honored Thursday for his lifetime of accomplishment at the Stephen B. Wiley Tribute Gala, at the in Morris Township.
The youngest of five children, Wiley was born on Early Street, graduated from in 1947 and, among many accomplishments here, helped bring about the merger of the Morristown and Morris Township school districts, to become the Morris School District, in the early 1970s.
Jackson Wiley, one of Stephen Wiley's older brothers, said everyone called him "Babe."
While the rest of the Wiley clan ventured elsewhere after school, Stephen Wiley returned to Morristown after law school, his brother said. "In our family, it seemed to be odd," Jackson Wiley joked.
But, having been at home when all the other children had gone off to school, and having more exposure to their father J. Burton Wiley–who was the Morristown School District Superintendent for over 30 years–must have left a very strong impression on the youngest Wiley child. "It affected him I think more than the rest of us," Jackson Wiley said.
Wiley also was one of the founding trustees of the Morris Educational Foundation, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, along with the 40th anniversary of the District. A new scholarship in Wiley's name also was announced at the event, to be awarded by the MEF in 2013.
But, school matters were not the only facets of life here that have been affected by Stephen Wiley. Friends and colleagues noted his fundraising efforts for such Morristown landmarks as , the and the iconic .
"It's hard to work in Morristown, Morris Township or Morris Plains without touching something Steve had a hand in touching, creating or inspiring," said Board of Education President Nancy Bangiola. "It's impossible."
"You just walk around town and you see his hand has been on a lot around here," said Glenn Coutts, president of The Trustees of the Morristown Green, and a teammate of Wiley's on the 1946 Morristown High School football team that went 10-0. "He's well-deserving."
"Morristown would be such a different place," said Art Raynes, of the Morristown law firm Wiley, Malehorn, Sirota & Raynes. Raynes joined the firm in 1982 and said of Wiley, "he is an unbelievable professional.
"One-hundred percent complete integrity," said Raynes, who worked with Wiley for 28 years, until Wiley's retirement. "It didn't matter if you were the CEO of GM or the most humble person. He gave the best representation possible."
It was that representation by Wiley for Morristown in the 1960s--when Morris Township was on the verge of building its own high school--that many in attendance recalled as one of the man's defining moments.
"Morristown was quickly changing due to white flight," said Felicia Jamison, a Morris Township resident also heavily involved in the merger of the school districts. "The merger was a natural, it wasn't desegregation, but true integration. ... He argued for a single community. You do have the power to merge, to bring about racial balance. Morristown needed the township to stay vibrant.
"Steve played a magnificent role in this," Jamison said. "He believed there was one community."
Katie Laud, Wiley's daughter, recalled her time at Dartmouth College, and her experiences with her father when he looked at her writings for the Daily Dartmouth.
"He would sit down and edit it," she said with a laugh. "He is a perfectionist, and a task master."
But, whatever he expected of others, he also expected of himself, she said. Especially when it came to some cause involving Morristown, and indeed, the entire Garden State.
"For some reason, he was born with a sense of passion for New Jersey," Laud said. "He would choke up when talking about New Jersey."
Though age and, what Laud called symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, prevented Wiley from coming back to New Jersey for the event, she said, "he would love this. There are so many people here. It's definitely evidence of his impact."
Despite having a unique way with words from an early age, Raynes said Wiley didn't realize he would later become a poet, as well, publishing several collections.
After , Connie Hagelin, with the Morris Educational Foundation, concluded the evening by telling a story about a recent telephone conversation she had with the honoree from his home in Vermont. When she asked him for a statement, a summation of his life's work for the event, Wiley said, "I'll call you another time."
A couple days later, Wiley called Hagelin back and, in a voice tempered somewhat by time but still as matter-of-fact as ever, he said:
"From dreaming, to wishing,
From wishing, to planning,
From planning, to doing,
From doing, to done."