Joseph Gurney

Obituary of Joseph W. Gurney

Devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather: Joseph W. Gurney, age 87, passed away peacefully on May 23,2020 at Princeton Hospital at Plainsboro NJ from complications arising from the Covid 19 Virus. Grandpa Joe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 24, 1933 to Julius and Dora Cohen. He was brought up in Brookline, Massachusetts and attended Boston Latin High School and then graduated from Brookline High School in 1950 whereupon he attended and then graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1954. He was active in ROTC throughout his college career and upon graduation enlisted in the US Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant where he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his oldest cousin Mel, a bombardier who was shot down over France and killed in 1944 and Mel's younger brother (also Joseph) who enlisted in the Army Air Corp in 1949. Grandpa Joe worked his way up to Captain where he continued to serve in the reserves until his honorable discharge in 1968. In the summer of 1953 Joe met Roslyn Nevins while working at the Bradley Beach Hotel while she and her friends were guests and they were married in December, 1954 while they lived in Brookline until he finished his active duty. In 1957 they moved permanently to New Jersey where he remained and thrived his entire adult life. He was the ultimate "people person" and "shmoozer", always quick with a smile and a joke but was a true Renaissance Man in the sense that he was extremely well read and knowledgeable on many subjects. He was someone with many varied interests including sports, history and travel which he did extensively throughout his life. He also served as president of Congregation Beth Shalom in Iselin NJ and was active in the Kiwanis and the Freemasons. He quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder in sales and then management through the 1960's at National Chemsearch Corp. where he became a Regional Manager in charge of East Coast Sales Operations but his restless soul had always desired to be the boss of his own business. Thus when he was offered the chance to be a half owner of the newly opened Wooden Nickel Restaurant in North Brunswick, NJ in 1971 he obtained the necessary finances and jumped at the chance. Along with his partners Art & Larry Stoller the restaurant steadily developed into the go-to dining and drinking spot in Central Jersey. Always willing to innovate and take chances, they converted the lounge area from live music (hosting such popular bands at the time as Kinderhook Creek) to showing movies that had recently completed their runs in movie theaters and included all the free popcorn one could eat. This was a revolutionary idea in the pre-cable days and proved to be a popular date spot for the whole area. Joe stayed in the restaurant business after his time at "The Nickel" while he and Art owned the Let's Talk Turkey/Mercer House Restaurant in East Windsor NJ and then Mr. G's Deli Nosh in the Route 1 Flea Market in New Brunswick NJ. He then took a turn in the rock music business when he and Steve Kaplan (co-owner of popular New Brunswick record store Cheap Thrills) produced the brand new "Shadow Page Band", which was fronted by lead singer, keyboard player and songwriter of the NJ based 1910 Fruitgum Company, a hitmaker in the late 1960's and early 1970's. They released an album called "Hanging By A Thread" which had moderate commercial success and continued to play New Jersey venues until the mid 1980's until disbanding. After that Grandpa Joe dabbled in numerous businesses while he continued to work well into his mid 70's while also finding time to be active in the Greenbriar at Whittingham Community in Monroe in various capacities. He also served on the Zoning Board in Monroe and compiled a large group of great friends while living for 17 years with his companion Dorothy (Cookie) Libou. The light of Joe's life was his family and took great joy in living long enough to have two great grandsons. He is predeceased by his parents and his older sister Phyllis. Joe is survived by his son Darryl (and his wife Susan) & daughter Beth (and her husband Elliot) Panitch; grandsons David (and his wife Tara) and Daniel (and his wife Marissa) and granddaughter Rachel (and her significant other Josh Firestone) granddaughter Amanda (and her fiance Jeremy Bohrer) and Rebecca (and her significant other Ed Hughes) and grandsons Adam, Noah and Sam Panitch and great grandsons Ryan Gurney and Hayden Gurney. He is also survived by Cookie and her daughter Sara Libou as well as Sara's daughter Lauren, who he thought of as his granddaughter as well and who called him grandpa as well as numerous nieces and nephews. Burial and private funeral services were held on May 28 at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown NJ(under the auspices of Tilghman Funeral Home in New Egypt NJ)where he will be honored by an honor guard at a future date. There was no Shiva held due to the pandemic. Donations may be made in his memory to The Hugs for Brady Foundation (4 Quentin Rd., Kendall Park NJ 08824) who are dedicated to ending pediatric cancer, The Rutgers Big Ten Champions Fund ( to support additional Covid 19 related expenses incurred by RU student athletes such as temporary housing, travel expenses home, meals, equipment etc. or a charity of your choice.
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