Good government advocate William Schluter of Pennington dies at 90

William Schluter, a longtime New Jersey legislator and advocate for good government, died at his Pennington home on Monday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 90.

Born in Bronxville, New York, he grew up on a working farm, Active Acres, which later became the site for Educational Testing Service. He attended Princeton Country Day School and Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated from Princeton University in 1950 with honors. He majored in economics and played varsity hockey for all four years.

He began his career working for Thermoid Incorporated in Trenton, and then moved to Sylvania Corporation in Buffalo, New York. After several years he returned to New Jersey, and with his brother Fred, founded NJ Forge, a manufacturing company in Plainfield. He and his wife Nancy settled in Pennington to raise a family. At this time, he became involved in local politics and served two terms as a member of the Pennington Borough Council. In 1964, he attended the Republican National Convention in San Francisco as a New Jersey delegate and decided to devote his life to public service.

He served as a Republican state senator and assemblyman in the New Jersey legislature from 1968 to 1974 and from 1987 to 2002. As a crusader for ethics and government reform, he chaired the New Jersey Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards and sponsored laws to regulate lobbying and disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures. He also served on committees overseeing environmental quality and land use. In 2001, he ran unsuccessfully as an independent for governor. Despite the long odds, he was described in one editorial as “a beacon of integrity in a capital often befogged by special interests and politics as usual.” Another opined “He’s a rare phenomenon: A veteran lawmaker and a straight arrow. For decades, he’s fought the good fight for honesty in government–often standing alone.”

Reflecting his deep interest in public policy and reform, he wrote many editorials and articles, including an Op-Ed in 1999 in the New York Times opposing to gambling in New Jersey titled “A Horse Race in Your House.” In 2017, he published “Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What To Do About It.” In reading this book one is reminded of a quote by the 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Throughout his career, he remained active in the community. He served on the boards of the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (now the Watershed Institute), and the Center for Analysis of Public Issues, and he was active in the Presbyterian Church of Pennington. His passion for hockey continued as a founding member of the Princeton Hockey Club. He played hockey in the club for more than 40 years as an adult player. He was also the coach of the “Black Hawks”, a pee wee hockey team, for more than 20 years.

“Bill Schluter stood for the right kind of politics, whether it be in the Senate, the Assembly, or in his public life in general,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday. “A tireless advocate for ethics and good governance, and for campaign finance laws that protect the integrity of our elections, he was never afraid to take on the politically tough fights.The greatest tribute those of us in public office can pay is to seek to live up to his example. Tammy and I send our condolences to Nancy and their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and Bill’s many friends, including all who served alongside him throughout his career.”

He was proudest of his family and their many accomplishments. He leaves behind his wife of 68 years, Nancy Hurd Schluter, and six children: William E. Schluter, Jr. (Nancy) of Wilmington, DE, Nancy Schluter Thurston (Steve) of Manakin-Sabot, VA, Sally Schluter Tardella (Joseph) of Bloomfield Township, MI, Peter L. Schluter (Leslie) of Pennington, Stephen A. Schluter (Cindy) of Summit, NJ, and Philip H. Schluter (Julie) of Summit, NJ, 19 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at the Presbyterian Church of Pennington on August 11 at noon, with Rev. David Hallgren officiating. The church is located at 13 S. Main Street in Pennington. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Watershed Institute.