In Memoriam: John J. Cali

Montclair State University Community Saddened By Passing of Friend, Supporter and Music School Benefactor

The Montclair State Community is mourning the loss of our friend, supporter and benefactor, John J. Cali, Hon. Litt.D. 2009, who passed away on Saturday, February 1, 2014.

Mr. Cali dreamed of making his living as a saxophone player but became a visionary real estate developer instead. The Montclair resident nonetheless made an important and lasting contribution to the world of music he so loved. Thanks to his generosity, since 2008, the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University has been empowering others to realize their dreams of becoming professional musicians and music educators.

“The Montclair State community mourns the loss of John Cali, a kind and caring man, who did so many great things for our School of Music, for our students and faculty, and for countless others in Montclair and beyond,” said Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole. “The support, guidance and friendship of John and his wife, Rose, have been invaluable to both me and the University over the years. The John J. Cali School of Music is a beautiful testament to the wonderful life lived by this community leader an extraordinary human being.”

Born in Colorado, Mr. Cali moved to New Jersey as a child. After graduating from Clifton High School, he continued his education at Indiana University, where he majored in sociology and psychology. Mr. Cali worked his way through college by playing saxophone and clarinet in jazz and swing bands, in the process developing a lifelong passion for music.

In 2008, Mr. Cali and his family made a $5 million gift to Montclair State that helped the University to establish the School of Music that bears his name. The only university-based music school in New Jersey, the Cali School offers students a world-class music education that includes training with internationally-celebrated visiting artists and faculty along with opportunities for both on-campus and international professional performances. “The Calis’ generous gift to our music program was the stimulus that enabled us to turn strong music programs into a preeminent school of music,” said President Cole.

Mr. Cali began his real estate career as a single-family home developer, founding Cali Associates in 1949 with his brother Angelo R. Cali and their business associate Edward Leshowitz (both of whom were members of Montclair State’s Class of 1936).  He served as chairman of the board when Cali Associates went public in 1994 as Cali Realty Corporation.  Following its initial public offering as a REIT, the company merged in 1997 with the Mack Company, and Mr. Cali later retired as chairman emeritus from the Mack-Cali Realty Corporation in 2003.  Together with his brother, Angelo, and other family members, Brant, Philip and John R. Cali, Mr. Cali also was a founder of Cali Futures, which focuses on real estate investment projects in New Jersey and the tri-state region.

A noted civic leader, Mr. Cali served as president of the Office Developers Association of New Jersey and a board member of many other organizations and groups. A recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1996, Mr. Cali was a generous supporter of the local library, the community hospital, and other Montclair organizations. He is survived by his wife, Montclair State trustee and alumna Rose C. Cali; his much-loved children, Brant Cali, Jonna Cali, Michael Nevins, Joshua Nevins and Christopher Cali; and his nine grandchildren who gave him his greatest joy: Shae, Olivia and Max Cali; Alex and Daniel Paleski; Jack, Christopher and Mikey Nevins; and Heebik John Cali.

“The John J. Cali School of Music is a lasting and fitting legacy to this wonderful man,” said President Cole. “His character, his intelligence and his kindness all will stand as great examples for our students to emulate.  In addition to his love of music and education, John has left for us a beautiful model of a life well lived.” 

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