Thomas G. Polefka, Ph.D. died at home in Weehawken, NJ on June 16 after a brave 5-year battle with lung cancer. Formerly a resident of Somerset, Tom leaves behind to mourn his wife of 40 years Maryann, daughter Sara, son-in-law David Katz and grandson Alex. Additional survivors include brothers Allen, Frank (Faye), sister Linda (Ken Kowalski), sister-in-law and brother-in-law Ellen and Paul Gately, nieces Lauren (Firman) Masri, Jennifer Gately, Melissa Gately and nephew Christopher Kowalski. Born in Passaic, NJ to Emil and Stephanie (Kroczenski) Polefka, Tom was 69. Dr. Polefka received his B.S. in biology and chemistry from Upsala College and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now known as Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences). He was a post-graduate fellow at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, where he met his wife. Tom’s professional career began at Colgate-Palmolive in Piscataway in the Oral Care division. He retired from Colgate-Palmolive as a Technology Director after 26 years. He then joined the team at Molsaic Internal Venture, a Johnson & Johnson start-up company, as a Research Fellow before founding his own consulting business, Life Science Solutions. Tom was a long-time member of the American Chemical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. During his professional career Tom was granted 29 patent awards, published 24 peer-reviewed articles and was a contributing author to three books. Tom was particularly proud of the young scientists he mentored over his long career who have themselves risen to the highest technical and business levels within their organizations.
Tom’s personal motto of ‘Look ahead with hope, not back with regret’ guided him throughout life to pursue many diverse interests. He was an avid bicyclist, fisherman, hiker and gardener. Sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for science and the out-of-doors led him to volunteer his time to numerous local organizations, including Franklin Township Little League, St Matthias Carnival, Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey and The Watershed Institute (Pennington, NJ). Upon closing his consulting business in 2016, Tom went on to complete training to become a Certified Rutgers Master Gardener of Somerset County. His volunteer service with the Master Gardener Helpline and schoolyard garden classes at Pine Grove Elementary School presented him with new challenges and provided immense satisfaction and pride.
Visitation for friends and family will be on Monday, June 21 from 10:00AM – 12:30PM at Gleason Funeral Home, 1360 Hamilton Street in Somerset, followed by 1:00PM mass at St. Matthias Church, 168 JFK Blvd. in Somerset. Cremation will be private. To honor Tom’s memory and continue his vision of looking to the future with hope, his family encourages you to volunteer for an organization in your community or wherever the need is greatest.