Martin F. McKernan Jr., 75, of Cherry Hill, a longtime Camden lawyer dedicated to public service and private philanthropy, died Aug. 3 of pancreatic cancer at home in Long Beach Island.
A prolific public official, Mr. McKernan was Camden’s city attorney from 1974-79, and served for years as counsel for the city’s housing, redevelopment, and parking authorities. He also worked with, among others, the Camden County Board of Social Services, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden, and the Audubon Mutual Housing Corporation.
Privately, Mr. McKernan did not hesitate to display the compassion and empathy his family and friends say he assimilated from his parents and Catholic faith. He was known for daily acts of kindness, large and small, many never disclosed until much later, that left people better off — and often inspired.
“Every day, he helped someone who was less fortunate than him. Every single day,” said Lexie Norcross, a lifelong friend and one of two goddaughters to Mr. McKernan. “His kindness was never-ending.”
“Having a brother like him,” said his youngest sister, Regina Harm, “was like hitting the jackpot.”
Public officials noted that Mr. McKernan’s civic roots in Camden were deep, his impact over half a century of service far-reaching.
In a statement, Camden County Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said Mr. McKernan helped “practically every sector of life in the Garden State.”
Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen wrote that Mr. McKernan “channeled his devout faith as a Roman Catholic and his unmatched expertise as a lawyer to better the lives of innumerable Camden residents.”
“Marty’s 50 years in the legal world, and his commitment to the city have been unmatched, his benevolence to his fellow man and his integrity in everything he did was unparalleled,” former Camden Mayor Dana Redd said in a statement.
Born Sept. 24, 1945, Mr. McKernan grew up in Camden and Haddonfield. He graduated from St. Joseph’s Prep in 1963, and, after a short stop at St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., graduated from St. Joseph’s University in 1968.
He earned his law degree from Georgetown University in 1971, and went on to become, at 29, the youngest Camden City attorney ever. Afterward, he became a partner with his father, Martin F. McKernan, and friend Jim Godino at McKernan, McKernan & Godino; a commissioner for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority; and a trustee for, among many others, the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, and the Camden Free Public Library.
“I learned more from him, sitting in his office, than I ever did in law school,” Godino said.
While rarely totally off the clock — he took client calls on nearly every vacation — Mr. McKernan liked to make and share Manhattans with friends, watch British TV shows, travel to Europe and the Caribbean, and quote Winston Churchill.
“He made the best Manhattan ever,” said longtime friend Bill Hankowsky. “Stirred. Not shaken.”
He served in the Army Reserves in the 1970s, quietly gave away money and possessions to those in need, mentored countless young people, and supported local businesses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He rarely missed a family celebration, and could tell a story that would mesmerize the room. “When he was there,” Godino said, “everything started.”
“He was as kind to the janitor or clerk as he would be to the bishop or president,” his sister said. “His loss leaves me beyond words.”
In addition to his youngest sister, Mr. McKernan is survived by his sister Theresa Donahue and other relatives. Another sister, Monica Holland, died earlier.
A Funeral Mass and interment at Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill were held Saturday, Aug. 7.
Donations in his name may be made to St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, 1733 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa., 19130; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Camden, 1845 Haddon Ave., Camden, N.J., 08104; and the Parish of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 642 Market St., Camden, N.J., 08102.