When MJ Walsh left the South nearly two decades ago to return to New Jersey, the state of her birth, it was not a decision she made lightly. After growing up in Elizabeth, MJ spent 33 years raising her family in Richmond, Virginia. But while she has a deep love for that city, she felt a strong pull to come back to the Garden State, where she still had relatives.
Now a resident of the Spring Ridge community, at age 83 MJ is doing anything but resting on her laurels. While others may opt for a life of leisure, she’s a playwright and an actor, with plays produced in community theaters in Chatham, Maplewood, and Union, where she also has acted. MJ regularly lends her gardening skills to the Bernards Township Library and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Politically, MJ is an asset here in town as well. She was an instrumental part of the phone banking team in last month’s election, helping to propel candidate Ana McCarthy to a historic position on the Township Committee, with her running mate Lily Wong falling short by just a few votes. Aside from helping to turn out the vote, MJ found some of the conversations she had with the senior citizen community memorable. “A woman – maybe a few years older than I – she volunteered,” MJ marveled. “She wanted to sign up!”
MJ has always been an activist, although not necessarily affiliated with a particular political party. In Richmond, as president and spokesperson of her neighborhood’s civic association, she frequently challenged politicians at city hall whose proposals were detrimental to the neighborhood. “We had to fight the system to retain our compatible mix of more than 400 households that still are integrated religiously, economically, racially, and culturally,” she said. “We all worked hard to understand each other and be good neighbors.” In 2016, the neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Registry due to its civil rights activism.
While she retains deep ties to Richmond, MJ’s family is spread out, with one adult son living in Chattanooga and the other in Pittsburgh. She finds Bernards Township to be a good fit for her right now, as she enjoys the area’s history and community jewels such as the Bernards Township Library. (“I could live in the library,” she admits.)
With Ana’s recent win, MJ sees a path forward for local Democrats. “My hopes are that we have a stronger impact on the general tenets of the Democratic party,” she said. “My big thing in life is to enjoy getting to know new and different people, understand them, and live among them as a good neighbor.”