Mary Previte, a longtime Haddonfield resident who served the community as well as state government, passed away on Nov. 16 at the age of 87, following injuries sustained when she was hit by a car earlier in the month.
“Mary was a special person and we were blessed to have her in Haddonfield. Whenever I interacted with her – at our Crows Woods garden, town Memorial Day services, Roberts Ave. Fourth of July parties, or at Commissioners meetings – Mary always had an impact on me through her words and her actions and her spirit. I’m really going to miss that and her distinctive voice, drive and opinions. She was one-of-a-kind,” noted Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko.
Born in China to missionary parents, Previte was an early eyewitness to the brutality of man, having spent three years in a Japanese internment facility as a child during World War II. She shared her story about Weihsien Concentration Camp openly, and did so as recently as Oct. 30 with students at Haddonfield Memorial High School. In 2016, Previte traveled back to China for an emotional reunion with one of her six liberators, Wang Chenghan.
Following the war, Previte initially found a home in Michigan, eventually earning a degree from Greenville College in Illinois, then added another diploma from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) after relocating to South Jersey along with husband, Ernest.
Once settled here, Previte taught English at Camden High, before taking a break to raise her daughter, Alice, in the early 1960s. When she returned to the workforce, she advocated tirelessly for reforms and rehabilitation efforts at Camden County’s Youth Center as superintendent of the facility for 31 years.
Previte first dipped into local affairs by serving on the school board in Voorhees, before also serving on the Haddonfield School Board for several years in the 1970s. The borough’s Fourth of July parade is an annual tradition, and Previte eagerly organized various activities for Roberts Avenue’s own celebration of American independence.
In 1998, Previte ran for and won a seat on the New Jersey State Assembly, representing the 6th District as a Democrat for four terms, until 2006. The post had been held by Republican John Rocco since 1980.
“Touting a legislative record that championed both women and children’s issues across the board, Assemblywoman Previte was a great force for good in New Jersey politics. Her compassion and steadfast commitment to community throughout her life made her a role model to countless young girls and a fierce advocate for children,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, Previte’s successor.
“Through the brave retelling of her life story and in her capacity as a member of the New Jersey Assembly, she worked tirelessly to instill messages of positivity and hope. My deepest condolences to her family, friends and all those who knew her during this time. Mary was a true servant of the people and her legacy will continue to live on.”
Despite losing her left hand in an accident with a saw as a teenager, Previte still engaged in activities such as sewing, bike riding and playing the organ. She was also an advocate for the creation and maintenance of Crows Woods Gardens, looking forward to both the opening and closing of its season and busily working her own garden plot in between.
“Mary was a woman of distinction passion and action. She was a larger than life personality that gave her all to whatever she worked on,” Mayor Neal Rochford said. “I feel bad that future children of Haddonfield will not have a chance to meet her personally, for she was truly an inspirational role model. She is a loss to our borough family.”