In Appreciation

Expressing gratitude to Pat Colligan for 10 years unparalleled service as NJSPBA president and his unique and never-ending dedication to make a difference for each and every member

By Mitchell Krugel
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.

Looking out from that stage on the National Mall, where he sat one last time with the most illustrious law enforcement dignitaries from around the world, Pat Colligan described how the crowd at the 2024 Candlelight Vigil seemed to extend all the way to the Washington Monument. That’s about the length of four football fields.

“I know it didn’t,” the just-retired NJSPBA president bantered about the 10th time he represented New Jersey in reading names of its fallen officers as part of the National Police Week’s Roll Call of Heroes on May 13. “But the crowd seemed larger than I remembered.”

Divinely, or fittingly, such a view, such a landscape, serves to fully capture what Pat Colligan has accomplished during his 10 years as NJSPBA president, more than 25 years as a Local, county and state union leader and 31-plus years as a law enforcement officer. And that space might not be able to hold all the members, citizens, elected officials, family, friends and even world leaders he has impacted along the way.

Crafting tributes to retired icons of this magnitude seems to read like a TV series finale. But there are very few like M*A*S*H out there.

When Sports Illustrated penned such stories for Jordan, Gretzky, Secretariat and the like, they were titled “An Appreciation.” Presidents who sat in another part of D.C. get whole buildings for their archives.

But after 10 years that included creating an independent PFRS that will ensure law enforcement and firefighters in New Jersey will be able to rely on their pensions forever; 10 years that featured the NJSPBA growing its political presence to become one of the most influential unions in the state; 10 years of building up the Survivor and Welfare Fund so it will always be there for families of the fallen; 10 years of fighting overstepping chiefs and other department leaders, city hall, county commissions and state agencies; 10 years of creating and building relationships that have led to better compensation, benefits and working conditions for all 36,000-plus active and retired members, there’s just so much to say.

Consequently, the search to describe, explain or praise Pat’s je ne sais quoi leads to speaking with a few of the many who experienced it. Their words of praise will not all fit here.

But the thoughts, compliments and homages collected make for a long ride praising the man who had that special gift of making everybody – everybody – he met feel special. That said, let’s commence with “Pat Colligan: An Appreciation.”

A few minutes before being sworn in as NJSPBA president, Pete Andreyev considered the question of Pat’s imprint. Personally, Pete calls it a new lease on life and says that he probably would have retired if Pat had not asked him to come into the state office as pension benefits coordinator in 2014.

His admiration easily goes to Pat’s work ethic being infectious and how he and Kovar and how the fact that Pat and Marc outhustled and outworked everybody drew him in.

“But to pinpoint one particular thing … there’s so many accomplishments,” Pete echoes.

Like the hundreds of thousands across the country who are benefiting, and will benefit, from Pat’s PFRS and pension triumph, Pete notes how utterly flabbergasting it is. Especially bringing all the public safety unions into lockstep to get it done and Pat’s commitment to showing all those who said it couldn’t be done that it could be done.

For Pete, that confirms the imprint of Pat that will endure.

“Pat is a very charismatic, dynamic personality. He is a true leader, a natural leader, and he definitely possesses the qualities of a successful person,” Pete emphasizes. “And that’s what made our association that much more successful.”

Newly ordained Executive Vice President Mike Freeman recalls a lot of State Delegates feeling beaten up and ready to give up just before Pat took over. But the voice, tone and feeling from Pat and Marc reinvigorated them, especially as they made their pilgrimage to meet every legislator in the state when taking over.

Keeping the positive attitude as they talked to people who saw them as the enemy and turned them around wowed so many members. Or invigorated them.

“His charm, his people skills, his drive and his energy, that was just an unbelievable job of salesmanship, which came naturally to him,” Freeman documents. “He’s the kind of guy who can figure out what to say to anybody. That’s important, being able to talk to people on their level and understand that there’s going to be differences of opinion. He keeps a smile on his face when he expresses that difference. That’s huge.”

As the PBA’s labor relations coordinator, Freeman marveled at how Pat could always predict the outcome of labor-related issues they had to address. Pat, he said, was adamant about following the rules and knew that would be the catalyst in winning grievances, discipline cases and even getting members back their jobs. And that he was never vindictive with people that went after the PBA.

“He was always good with that as a leader, not as somebody who’s responding to people screaming nonsense,” Freeman adds. “He heard it all the time. He saw the posts on Facebook, people blaming him for things that are completely out of his control. But he knew, ‘I keep my head up, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and eventually we’ll prevail.’”

Lynette Colligan revealed that on his last day as president, Pat left for work at 5:15 a.m. Much like nearly every day the past 10 years.

She submits that a lot of stamina and a lot of coffee led Pat to start early and not leave until what he started that day was finished. And Lynette relates what the times she overheard Pat on the phone raising his voice to a politician on the other line, a tone very few really ever heard from him, revealed.

“He meant business, and he was working for his members. That was his No. 1 thing,” Lynette confides. “So I think that brought out the bulldog in him.”

From her perspective, Pat’s greatest accomplishments included his family becoming so vital to the PBA and leading the union through perhaps the toughest time ever in law enforcing.

Their elder daughter, Kayleigh, surprised them by getting her biochemistry degree and becoming a Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office detective and very active member of Local 339. Connor Colligan always wanted to be a law enforcement officer from the time his folks had a professional photographer take a picture of him as a little boy wearing Pat’s police shirt and duty belt. He is now on as an Edison Local 75 member, just rode his first Police Unity Tour and certainly has a promising future on the job and in the union. Their youngest, Brenna, has worked for the PBA and been a fixture at so many events the past 10 years where members have watched her grow up and count her as part of the blue family.

Which leads Lynette to her thank-you note to Pat.

“I have to thank him for always putting his family first,” she says. “Thank you for never forgetting us during the most trying times in police history. And during the most trying times, you never lost sight of your purpose.”

Kevin Lyons repeatedly saw how Pat was the right man at the right time. Serving as the state PBA’s health benefits coordinator and the union’s rep on the State Health Benefits Plan Design Committee, he witnessed how Pat was 100 percent advocate and zero percent politician.

“He would tell the chief of staff of the governor’s office, ‘Show me where Kevin’s wrong, and I’ll have him retract it,’” Lyons presents. “Pat’s got a gift. He’s a very good communicator. He gets his point across, and he’s got a way of pulling rabbits out of hats.”

Lyons praises how Pat quickly learned the truth from his other great consigliere, John Hulse, the PBA special projects coordinator for the duration of his term. Hulse always advised that everything they got came from politicians, and everything that was taken away was taken by politicians. And anything they’re ever going to get back will come from politicians, so you have to be involved in the political game.

“Pat made it one of his strengths,” Lyons validates. “He was very good at opening a dialogue with adversaries. He could win people over with his personality that could disarm people.”

The potency of Pat’s administration rippled from the team that included Kovar, Andreyev, Freeman, Lyons, Hulse, Government Affairs Director Rob Nixon and many executive board members who came immediately when called. The latest to come to the office team was Luke Sciallo, the Allenhurst-Ocean Township Local 57 State Delegate, who followed Pat and Pete as the pension benefits coordinator beginning in February 2023.

Pat always convened stealthy morning meetings, which enabled Sciallo to quickly integrate into the team. A view from sitting at this table confirms what Colligan liked so much about being president.

“Well, he’d be the first one to listen to your opinion and then not tell you how it is,” Sciallo quips. “Rather, he would gather everybody’s opinion and take the best course of action going forward. And he always just seemed to know what to do.”

And this was with anyone who sat down from the moment they sat down.

“He never let you feel like you were on the sidelines,” Sciallo continues. “You were always a part of whatever you did.”

With another 29 years to go to match her father, Kayleigh Colligan acknowledges how emulating his hardworking mentality, loyalty and honesty will be needed to get there. And how even if he had a bad day, he loved his job every day.

But as the kids went through so many days (and nights) during the past 10 years when he left before they woke up and came home after they were already sleeping, they understood what motivated Pat through the 4 a.m. wake-up calls and 18- hour days.

“He’s always looking out for everyone ahead of him,” Kayleigh admires. “He puts everyone before himself.”

And she suspects he will not stop doing so.

“I know that my dad’s not going to stop worrying about everyone else in the union or every cop in the country,” Kayleigh adds. “I know that he’s still going to be there for everyone, but I just want him to maybe take some time for himself for once. I told him if he does, maybe his hair will even grow back.”

Can you see Pat sitting down after work, having a cigar and a cold one with his son and passing on some of the lessons.

Connor is not much of a cigar guy, but he confirms he has been getting those lessons every night. Probably long before he came on with Edison a year and a half ago or did his hitch in the U.S. Coast Guard.

He first admired his father coming home in his uniform and hearing all the cool stories about how he affects the public.

“And just taking care of everyone and making a difference for people who think that they’re not thought after,” Connor recalls.

Connor saw the passion Pat put into the job. He knew the sleepless nights and the stress that went along with it. But here’s what Connor remembers most:

“The fact that he’s motivated every morning that he wakes up and never has a second thought about doing so,” he emphasizes.

Within the first few weeks of his presidency, Pat had a day. It began with the funeral for Allendale-Waldwick member Christopher Goodell, who was lost in the line of duty on July 17, 2014. After that, he made a 100-plus-mile run to Long Beach Island, where the PBA and FMBA mustered at a Chris Christie public appearance to make a stand against the governor.

The FMBA had a new president come on several months earlier, and on that day Ed Donnelly noted that the whirlwind would eventually slow down for Pat. But that day really was the genesis of a partnership and friendship that would eventually crescendo with the Chapter 55 legislation that made the PFRS independent.

“Pat and I hit it off, and we’re able to continue that long-lasting relationship because it’s so important for the largest majority of firefighters and police officers to stand united,” Donnelly expresses. “And when we did that, we were able to tackle anything.”

Donnelly appreciates how they played good cop, bad cop when they could and bad cop together when they had to for the betterment of members. And he praises how much Pat knew how to read the room, whether it was a room full of firefighters, a room full of decision makers or one-on-one with a legislator.

As the big story goes, Pat read the tea leaves when he and Marc met with two reps from the state about the rough road ahead for the pension system. That led to a meeting with then-Senate President Steve Sweeney, who, according to Donnelly, said, “Take your pension system over.”

The ultimate “they said it couldn’t be done” quest began with Pat, Marc, Donnelly and FMBA Executive Vice President Rich Mikutsky traveling the state and the country to come up with this:

“We put pen to paper, and we offered a piece of legislation that will change the lives of firefighters and police officers in New Jersey long after Pat and I are gone,” Donnelly confirms.

A somewhat unknown perk of being PBA president enabled Brenna Colligan to babysit for a lot of cops. The tips for doing so included how Pat did great work.

“They always told me, ‘He’s doing incredible things,’ so that always felt good,” she admits. “I knew that he wasn’t just leaving us just to go waste time and sit by a pool or something.”

Actually, Brenna extrapolated this into realizing how hard Pat worked in the name of helping people he didn’t even know became their normal. And watching that put into perspective how strong the PBA family was.

“I’d hear his middle-of-the-night phone calls or waking up in the middle of the night to go see people in the hospital or go help people, and that is crazy to me,” she adds. “I mean, his work ethic is insane.”

In the late 1990s, the NJSPBA hit a bit of a pothole having to do with the election for state president. Pat was part of the group that helped the union navigate to an outcome that facilitated stability. In 2012, the PBA’s longtime pension benefits coordinator retired, and Pat was again called to step in.

Then, in 2014, when President Tony Wieners was set to retire and the succession changed course at the last minute, the PBA called on Pat to become president.

“Pat was a man of the hour when we needed him and one of the best communicators we ever had,” details Hulse, who was a state executive board member when Pat became State Delegate. “Not knowing how things were going to transpire, I’m glad he was there to help us with other transitions. Being a PBA guy here, hard work is the No. 1 thing you need, but you also need timing and opportunity.”

Hulse would be the first to say Pat put the PBA on the map, nationally. After Hulse led a PBA team to lend support when five Dallas officers were massacred in 2016, Pat charged him with building up the union’s ability to make such responses. With that encouragement and funding, the PBA now has a Special Services team that is nationally recognized with its support trailer at many line-of-duty-death memorials throughout the country.

“Just before Dallas happened, he said, ‘We need a better trailer,’ and, ironically, we took possession of a new one before that massacre occurred.” Hulse explains. “And now you have people coming up to you, saying, ‘I know there are other groups that say they’re nationwide, but you’re the only ones we ever see all over the country.’ That’s because of Pat Colligan. And we have touched so many people across the country and their families.”

Hulse concludes this portion of the appreciation by extending it to a realm that helps define what Pat meant to the PBA.

“We had a real special relationship with his family,” he accentuates. “With all the serious business that we had to do – and we got it done – a lot of times the trips we made together, his family made it fun. They were my favorite Colligans.”

So now, the end is here. We could continue on like the M*A*S*H finale that ran for two hours. And maybe that would allow an opportunity to hear from all 36,000-plus active and retired PBA members who probably would like to express their appreciation. Not to mention the numerous sponsors and supporters who will continue to sing Pat’s praises for the next decade because of the way he made them all feel special.

As it is, comments from state board members, retired members who continue to serve as supporters from the business community, attorneys and others from the business community Pat has helped grow exponentially wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Fittingly, and divinely, Pat’s final duty for the PBA culminated with reading the name of Bobby Shisler during the Roll Call of Heroes. He was a Gloucester County PBA Local 122 member from Deptford Township who was lost in the line of duty in May 2023.

“I knew walking up, this would be it,” Pat confides. “I did it loudly and clearly.”

Walking away with another member on his mind. As is the Colligan way.