After a career in the Cherry Hill municipal courts, De Sousa, a widow and mother of three, committed 38 years to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, retiring at age 89 in 2011.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 15, 2023
Once in a while, just for fun, Josephine de Sousa will tell her Amazon Alexa to play George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas,” while she dances with her “buddy,” the nickname the 101-year-old has given the walker that helps maintain her balance.
Although she traveled the world in her youth, these days, de Sousa is satisfied with entertaining visitors at her Cherry Hill home.
Her considerable lifetime of memories includes nearly 40 years spent in the administrative offices of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO), which marked de Sousa’s 101st birthday with gratitude for her dedication to the institution.
In 1973, a 51-year-old de Sousa left the Cherry Hill municipal court to join the CCPO as a clerical staffer. Within six months, she had been bumped up to the sixth floor of Camden City Hall, where she worked as an administrative secretary for the late Thomas Shusted, the first full-time prosecutor in Camden County, and a Sixth Legislative District assemblyman.
“Tom Shusted decided he needed a new secretary, and he chose me,” de Sousa remembered.
Not long after that, the CCPO relocated from City Hall to the Parkade Building across Roosevelt Plaza, a hulking garage that de Sousa remembered as “very different” from its former digs. By comparison, she marveled at its current offices, in the Governor James J. Florio Center For Public Service.
“It’s really amazing,” de Sousa said. “They did a lot of wonders here.”
Many of the current CCPO leadership were just beginning their careers there long after de Sousa had already become a familiar presence. CCPO Chief of Staff Michael Mangold recalled her as “the face of the administration” throughout her time with the department.
“She was a wonderful person to deal with; always pleasant, always helped you out,” Mangold said.
Long-tenured CCPO administrative staffers Amy Irwin and Debbie Angelastro said they owe their friendship to de Sousa.
When de Sousa recruited Irwin for a job with the prosecutor’s office in 2010, she advised her to someday, “try to get into administration,’” Irwin said.
Because Irwin did just that, “I met one of my best friends,” she said.
“When [Josephine] told Amy she should come here for a job, she told her, ‘Look Debbie up and become friends,” Angelastro said.
“And we took her advice.”
Her colleagues remembered de Sousa as a welcoming presence in the workplace, not least of all because she was a heralded — and generous — scratch baker.
She frequently sent Angelastro home with walnut cookies for her mother.
Their coworker, Elizabeth Martinez, hopes de Sousa will whip up a strawberry shortcake to celebrate her own retirement.
(For all the baking she’s done for others, however, de Sousa, a native Brooklynite, says she’s still in search of a crispy, thin-crust pizza that compares with her own recipe.)
Her former employers even tried to recruit her to return, but despite the offer of a shorter commute, de Sousa said she never considered going back to work for the municipal courts in her hometown.
“Even though I traveled quite a few miles more than when I worked in Cherry Hill, the prosecutor’s office was the best thing for me,” she said. “The coworkers were very nice. It was just a warm place to work for.”
De Sousa was finally ready to retire in 2011, when she was just 89.
At the time, the office was undergoing some budget-based staff cutbacks; although her own position was secure de Sousa said she “didn’t want to take somebody else’s job,” and left the workplace.
“I retired in January and my husband passed away in March,” she remembered. “It was God’s will.”
Throughout their marriage, Josephine and Edgar de Sousa, who worked in the fashion industry, traveled the world. Among the highlights of those days, she recalled taking lunch in the Presidential Residence of Cheong Wa Dae in South Korea, and an audience with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City, which she described as “very, very exciting.”
Having satisfied her desire for adventure, de Sousa said most of her post-retirement travels have been confined to visiting family in Maryland.
She is still closer with her children, Edgar (80) and Dennis (78) de Sousa, and Denise Payne (72), who said her mom “is an inspiration to me and probably anybody that’s ever met her.
“When people say I’m going to be like my mother, it’s a compliment,” Payne said.
“I love her lots.”
Asked about her outlook on life, de Sousa attributes her longevity to keeping an even temperament.
“I never really complained,” she said. “If something went wrong today, tomorrow it got fixed. You always have something to look forward to.
“I want to be a friendly person and try to forgive,” de Sousa said. “Tomorrow’s another day. Keep active. Keep clear of mind, and forgive. Don’t hold grudges; it’s no good for your health anyway.”
Mindful of the fullness of her career, family, and experiences, de Sousa takes none of it for granted.
“Keep looking ahead and don’t think of the hereafter,” she said. “You know what you have on Earth. You don’t know what you’re going to find when you’re gone.”
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