Ronald Rice, a longtime New Jersey senator, died March 15, after a long illness. He was 77.

Rice, who represented Newark, was the longest-serving Black lawmaker in state history. He served in the state Senate from 1986 until last summer, when he retired.

A stalwart advocate for social justice, Rice founded and chaired the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. He served on several committees over the course of his legislative career, including as a member and former chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, where he was a tireless advocate for students.

The senator was a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a former Newark police officer.

“Senator Rice was a committed advocate for the welfare of his constituents and understood the role that a quality public education can play in providing opportunities to our children,” said Dr. Timothy J. Purnell, NJSBA executive director and CEO. “He frequently took the time to hear the concerns of local school board members about education issues.  In particular, we appreciate his efforts and those of his staff to meet with representatives of local school boards through his participation in county school boards association meetings and other NJSBA programs. The New Jersey School Boards Association extends its sincerest condolences to Senator Rice’s family.”