NEW JERSEY – Mrs. Deborah (Debby) Bye Kean, beloved wife of former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean, passed away on the evening of April 23, 2020. She would have turned 77 years of age on May 15. She died peacefully at home.
Debby Kean was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1943, the only child of the late Elizabeth Griffenberg Bye and Robert Bye, a corporate executive. Mrs. Kean was a graduate of the Tower Hill School in Wilmington and of Bennett College in Millbrook, New York. She married Thomas H. Kean on June 3, 1967.
As first lady, she was noted for the renovation of the Governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket. When Kean was elected, New Jersey did not have a Governor’s mansion, as their previous site Morven was given to the New Jersey Historical Society to use as their headquarters. The new site, Drumthwacket, was filled with old and tired furniture. Debby knew that New Jersey’s Governor’s mansion should be second-to-none. Therefore Debby formed a foundation, encouraged donations and soon bought wonderful antique furniture which is still admired today. She said New Jersey deserves as good of a Governor’s mansion as any other state, and she made that happen.
When she saw a wrong, she tried to right it. She found that many state employees were struggling because of a lack of day care available for their children. She lobbied various people until she received the funds, and with those funds established a number of day care centers for the children of state employees. The largest still bears her name, The Deborah B. Kean Childcare Center.
She was known to family and friends for her warm disposition and quick wit. An avid reader, she was a lifetime enthusiast of the performing and visual arts, avocations she shared with her husband.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her sons, NJ state Senator Thomas H. Kean, Jr., of Westfield, Reed Kean, of Chatham, a business executive, a daughter, Alexandra Kean Strong, of Duxbury, Massachusetts, an educator; and seven grandchildren.
Above all she loved her children and seven grandchildren and was deeply loved in return.
“It is with great sadness that we today acknowledge the passing of First Lady Debby Kean. Throughout Governor Kean’s administration, she remained a strong presence. Ever mindful of the inherent challenges of a sitting governor, First Lady Kean supported her husband and ensured he also focused on his most lasting legacy of personal family. We are keeping Governor Kean, a dear friend and mentor, in our family’s prayers at this time, as well as Tom, Jr., Alexandra, and Reed, and their families,” Governor Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy said.