The Jersey Journal
March 14, 2003
by Earl Morgan
Jersey City Housing Authority Director Robert Rigby, 55, died yesterday of cancer, just weeks before he was to officially retire.
Just last week, Rigby attended a tribute the JCHA commissioners and staff held for him in the Curries Woods Public Housing site, which has been transformed from six high-rise buildings to a development of 207 townhouses during Rigby's 30-year tenure as the authority's director.
Rigby died at home shortly before 12:30 p.m., surrounded by his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Erica and his son, Colin. "It ended quickly, the way I think he would have wanted it," Erica Rigby said.
When Rigby took office, a number of JCHA sites were plagued with structural problems and the agency was battling accusations of improprieties in its administration. There was also a lawsuit brought by Marion Gardens tenants battling an authority decision to demolish that housing site.
Several years after Rigby took the helm, the suit was settled. Not only was the decision to vacate Marion Gardens reversed, Rigby managed to bring millions of dollars into the city to undertake a massive modernization and rehabilitation of the city's twelve public housing sites.
The Rev. Alex Santora, who is a former pastor of St. Aloysius Church, which the Rigby family attended, said: "I think he's one of the few public servants who managed to survive administration after administration. He was respected for his integrity and character, and managed to rise above petty politics."
Santora also praised Rigby for his commitment to improving the quality of life and empowering public housing tenants. "There's no question that he empowered the people in public housing and made it possible for them to do things they never thought they could," Santora said. "In fact, Jersey City's housing authority became a model of what public housing can be."
"Santora said Rigby was not one to talk much about his religious faith. He did not wear his religion on his sleeve, Santora said, instead exhibiting it in his effort to make a difference in people's lives."
Rigby, Santora noted, earned a national reputation as a trendsetter and innovator in public housing. "Bob could have gone off and become a bigshot in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Instead, he chose to stay here," Santora said.
Rigby always found time for his family, according to his wife. "He always managed to be home for dinner and he coached Colin's Little League team and Erica's CYO basketball team," Mrs. Rigby said.
She also noted her husband's skill in finding good people to work with. Mrs. Rigby said her husband made sure that if his staffers were capable, "they would advance in their jobs."
Diane Johnson, a HUD official who is also a former Jersey City resident and who worked with Rigby for several years, said: "He was a great professional, certainly dedicated to the mission of HUD to provide safe and sanitary dwellings for people living in public housing. He really understood the transformation in philosophy that is occurring in HUD and the way it can be used to improve the quality of life for public housing tenants."