BRANCHBURG — Raymond Bateman, the former Republican state Senate president who helped create New Jersey's county college system and who once ran for governor, has died. He was 88 years old.

The death was announced by Gov. Chris Christie, who issued a statement Saturday afternoon.

“The state will miss his selfless service and his family will miss their patriarch," Christie said. "He is a great example of a life well lived. Mary Pat and I extend to the Bateman's, on behalf of all New Jerseyans who benefitted from Senator Ray Bateman's service, our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time."

Bateman defeated Tom Kean Sr. in the GOP gubernatorial primary but went on to suffer a landslide defeat in 1977 against Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne. Despite the loss, Bateman never left public service and inspired his son — Christopher "Kip" Bateman — to pursue public office. Bateman's son now serves in the state Senate in the Somerset County seat once occupied by the elder Bateman.

“My father embodied everything that a public servant should be,” state Sen. Bateman said. “He was always interested in helping others, and he instilled in me the belief that public service matters. He set an extremely high standard for all of us who follow.

“He also was dedicated to his family, and we always came first. His loss will be immense, but we couldn’t be prouder of the life he lived and happier about the time we had with him. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us.”

Bateman served in the state Legislature as a well respected party leader for 19 years, first as an assemblyman and then as a state senator. He served three terms as Senate president and more than 100 days as acting governor.

He helped write the legislation that created the community colleges in New Jersey. In 1988, he lead the effort to persuade Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to boost funding for county colleges by $48 million. He also chaired a blue-ribbon committee that advocated for part-time tuition aid grants for county college students and increased funding for county college construction projects.

Bateman served on the Raritan Valley Community College Board of Trustees for more than three decades, until the day he died, serving as chairman for 26 years.

He also served as chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for a decade, announcing his resignation in 2001 in protest over plans to add office and retail space to the Meadowlands sports complex.

In the private sector, he ran a public relations and advertising firm.

"In all of those roles he exemplified honesty, integrity and dignity," Christie said. "He was the father of New Jersey's county college system. He was a model public servant and an icon of the New Jersey Republican Party."

State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., whose father had lost to Bateman but then went on to become one of the state's most popular governors, on Saturday said Bateman "was a giant" in public service.

"He was one of the people that I admired most growing up in a family that followed a similar path," he said. "He’s someone that many of us who serve now try to emulate."

Years after he left office, Bateman continued his involvement in party politics as a traditional moderate New Jersey Republican.

He wrote a column for the Courier News for many years, offering comment on current affairs. In December he wrote a column saying it was "time for Republicans to dump Trump," explaining that the celebrity real estate tycoon "scares the heck out of me." And last November, he took a shot at Christie for having "lost sight of his New Jersey Republican colleagues" amid his presidential campaign.

In a column he penned before his last birthday, Bateman reminisced on graduating from Somerville High School in 1945 and how the world has changed so much since then.

As the years pile on and feebleness is too often the order of the day, I’m happy I was lucky enough to spend my years in the good old USA. Our country often screws up its role in the world but you can’t ever forget how important we are to the rest of the countries on earth.

Here I come 89 with the hope it will be fine; if it doesn’t work out I’ll still be totally happy I was here for 88.

Bateman obtained his degree from Wesleyan University in 1950. He also attended the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Bateman had recently broken a shoulder and came down with pneumonia, The Associated Press reported.

Information about services was not immediately available Saturday.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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