The Morris County Board of Freeholders formally announced the retirement of Lawrence “Larry” Ragonese, whose service over the past five years as Director of Communications for Morris County capped off a career in New Jersey media and public relations that spanned more than 40 years.
“I just want to say what an asset he has been to me, to the entire freeholder board and to all of Morris County. Aside from his sense of humor and charm, we will miss Larry’s strong work ethic, his genuine concern for helping people who come to the county seeking assistance and his extensive knowledge of Morris County,” said Freeholder Director Deborah Smith.
Ragonese officially retired on Sept. 1, but continued for a week in assisting in the transition of a new director. He had become an enduring presence in the Morris County Administration & Records Building in Morristown, as well as the Morris County Courthouse, largely because of his many years as a news reporter in the area. But the freeholders and county administration also hailed his work in modernizing the county Office of Public Information and expanding constituent relations.
“The legacy of Larry Ragonese will remain a treasured institution within Morris County for years to come, for in so many ways he has touched each of us — and through his too numerous to mention contributions, has improved our lives,” said Morris County Administrator John Bonanni. “As a journalist, as well as a Communications Director, Larry approached every issue with both integrity and a smile, the mark of true gentleman. I wish him and his family the very best!”
Ragonese, a Cedar Knolls resident, had covered Morris County government as a news reporter from the 1980s until 2010. He began his career as a deejay in Parsippany for WQTK 1310 a.m. in 1977, but by 1978 he moved on to become news director at WSUS 102FM in Sussex County before taking on a reporting position at The Daily Record of Morristown in 1980.
At the time, The Daily Record was privately owned and had a large circulation throughout northwest New Jersey. Ragonese originally served as The Daily Record’s Sussex County bureau chief, but quickly became the Morris County courthouse reporter. By 1984, he ascended to the The Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, where he covered Morris County government until April 2010.
He subsequently joined the administration of then-Governor Chris Christie as Director of Communications for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, holding the post until becoming the Director of Communications in Morris County in February 2015.
“I just want to give a very heart-felt congratulations to Larry Ragonese on his retirement from Morris County. For many years, Larry has been the voice of Morris County,” said Freeholder Doug Cabana, who has been on the board since 1997, when Ragonese was already considered the dean of county government reporting in the region.
“He should be proud of what he’s done. He’s going to be missed, and I just wish him all the best in his retirement. I wish he would stay a little longer,” Cabana added.
Ragonese spoke briefly at the Aug. 26 freeholder meeting about his retirement, calling it a bittersweet decision and sharing fond memories about his time in Morris County, conjuring “the ghosts” of the many county officials he knew, wrote about and developed friendships with over the past 40 years.
“It’s been my privilege to walk in their great footsteps,” Ragonese said. “So I leave you with a smile and a thank you, and I hope the best for all of you in county government. And I have just one request: Please, Freeholder Krickus, keep my taxes low.”
The freeholders honored Ragonese with an official resolution recognizing his service.
The post of Director of Communications has been assumed by Brian T. Murray, also a Morris County resident who spent more than 30 years in the daily news business in New Jersey, including more than 20 years as a reporter at the The Star-Ledger with Ragonese.
In 2011, Murray followed Ragonese into state government, serving as Communications and Marketing Director for the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, until leaving in 2015 to become Press Secretary and Communications Director for Governor Chris Christie. He founded BurnPin, a communications and public relations company, after leaving state government in 2018.