Obituary: Albert Edward Pelham

Albert Edward Pelham, affectionately known by many names — Al, Alpine, Big Pine, Mr. Pelham, Uncle Albert, Dad, Pops and his most beloved title, Coach — died on Aug. 19, 2021. He was 71.

Mr. Pelham was born in 1950 at Mountainside hospital and was raised in Montclair. He attended Montclair public schools through graduation from Montclair High School in 1968. 

He enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served for three years and was honorably discharged in 1971. He attended Bloomfield College and graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s in accounting. Following his graduation, Mr. Pelham embarked upon a corporate career at Prudential Insurance Co., where he held numerous roles and ascended into leadership during his 18-year career.

After returning from the Army in 1971, he met the love of his life, Audrey Jones, and they married on Nov. 19, 1975. He became father to Dwayne Jones, his wife’s adolescent son, and in 1977 the couple had a daughter, Rhonda.

In 1997 Mr. Pelham was downsized from his job at Prudential and decided that this was the ideal time to start giving back to the community in a more significant way. He helped start a summer program, Project Oasis, through the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp. (MNDC), whose mission is to enrich Montclair teenagers in education, recreation and cultural awareness. He was proud of Project Oasis, of how it evolved over time and of its impact, touching thousands of young people for 24 years and counting.

Mr. Pelham deepened his service to MNDC over the years, eventually serving as its executive director, a role he held until the end of his life. In addition to his leadership of MNDC, he played an integral role in the operations of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), an organization he served for 20 years, most recently as director of human resources. 

His civic leadership was expansive, including longtime leadership of the Montclair branch of the NAACP and co-chairmanship of the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation. 

Over the years, he earned countless awards for his leadership and commitment to the community. While all of his titles were impressive and his awards well-earned, Mr. Pelham didn’t care about receiving accolades or credit. 

He cared only about the work and ensuring that community needs were met, with the goal of impacting as many lives as possible. He tackled the most difficult challenges facing Montclair, head-on, and was a master at developing and nurturing relationships at every level of government to get things done, often more quickly than anyone could imagine possible.

Through the years, he created programs for youth, including an after-school program for students and a program for suspended Montclair High School students that offered an alternative to sitting at home, instead providing academic training and counseling at the Wally Choice Center in Glenfield Park. 

Most recently, as schools closed due to the pandemic and the issue of the digital divide became more acute, he helped create a partnership with the township to establish a remote-learning facility at the Wally Choice Center for 50 students. That program continued into the summer to help students who suffered academically from the school closures.

While he has been rightly described as a “pillar” and the “bedrock” of the Montclair community, he occupied this same role in his family. There was no one who valued family more than Mr. Pelham, who took any opportunity he could to gather with family — either in small groups over a game of cards, or in big groups during family reunions, or during his cherished time every Christmas with his daughter Rhonda, her family and extended family who lived in the area. He was known for standing in the gap for those he loved, without judgment.

While it seems impossible that he had time for anything else, Mr. Pelham prioritized his physical fitness and worked out at the gym every day that he could. He was a mainstay at the Park Street YMCA for years, and at other local gyms in recent years. He also loved Montclair youth sports and was a constant presence at sporting events at all grade levels through high school.

Above all else, Mr. Pelham was a God-fearing man who lived out his deep faith in Christ on a daily basis. It is no surprise that he’s been committed to Culture Changing Christians since 2015, under the leadership of Pastor Carl Day. 

He was devoted to his wife, and their partnership established a foundation for their children and their families. Everyone who knew him knows of the deep love he had for his children and two grandchildren, Charles IV (13) and Cameron (5), and the especially close bond that he and Charles IV (aka “Moosey Boy”) shared. 

Survivors beyond his immediate family include his sisters, Dolores Clark (Earl), Dorine Gibbs (the late Jerome Gibbs), Joan Pelham and Waulina Pelham (Kenneth), and a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, friends and community members.

Mr. Pelham was predeceased by his parents, Hazel and Joseph Pelham Sr.; sisters, Patricia Spikes and Helena Pelham, and brothers, Joseph Pelham Jr. and Wallace Pelham.

There will be a viewing on Thursday, Aug. 26, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Caggiano Memorial Home for Funerals, 62 Grove St. The funeral is Friday, Aug. 27, at the Montclair High School auditorium, Park Street entrance, with a viewing from 10 to 11 a.m. and the service beginning at 11. Interment will be at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations to the Albert Pelham Scholarship Fund at the Montclair African American Heritage Foundation (MAAHF). Checks can be made payable to MAAHF c/o Albert Pelham Scholarship Fund, PO Box 462, Montclair NJ 07042.