PISCATAWAY – To those who filled Piscataway High School’s football stadium Monday to celebrate the life of Kenneth R. Armwood, the deputy director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners, the township resident held a special distinction.
“You will not find anyone with a bad thing to say about Kenny Armwood. Now in politics that line is usually accompanied by the caveat, in public, but Kenny was truly different. No one could say a bad thing about him in private either,” Gov. Phil Murphy said while standing behind Armwood’s casket covered with flowers and a football team photo, on the field where Armwood’s legacy began.
Murphy said the deputy director loved people and took joy in public service.
“Kenny was not about using the power of office for his own ego or purpose. What he was about was using the power of public office to do good for others in this community for which he dedicated himself,” the governor said.
Murphy said Armwood was passionate about small businesses that needed help during the pandemic, public education, the arts and artists, and he backed it up with a passion for service.
“He woke up every morning eager to do something to make his community stronger,” the governor said.
Armwood, 46, died suddenly March 29.
During more than 20 years of public service, Armwood served on the Piscataway Township Board of Education, a seat he won at age 19, and then later served on the Piscataway Township Council until 2013. He was then tapped to fill a vacancy on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders, the second African American elected to the board, and in 2020 was selected as deputy director, the county’s first African American to hold the post. He also worked to change the title freeholder to the more inclusive commissioner.
New Jersey politicians from the local, county and state levels, joined by Armwood’s cousin, Valerie Adams-Manigault, friends and colleagues, filled socially distanced chairs on the football field for Monday’s ceremony. Middlesex County Commissioner Shanti Narra, of North Brunswick, led the celebration of Armwood’s life, while others fond of him sat in the bleachers. A private burial was held at Lake Nelson Memorial Park in Piscataway.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th District, said Armwood was the “ultimate public servant.”
“That’s all he wanted to do was to help people,” said Pallone, who recalled Armwood reaching out to him to see how Job Corps students could be helped. “He always tried to mentor young people. He felt that was his obligation. That’s why he cared so much about education.”
Some former Job Corps students Armwood mentored talked about how he was tough on them and reminded them to know their worth so they could be successful. His advice worked – one woman said she is now a registered nurse while another said she’s working toward her doctorate in nursing.
State Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, recalled Armwood’s positive outlook and his unique, thunderous laugh which was never at anyone else’s expense.
“He was always about others. He was a true public servant,” Smith said.
“He was everywhere and he realty enjoyed being an official,” said Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler, adding it didn’t matter whether it was on the school board, township council or commissioner board.