NEWARK -- Robert B. Meyner, 81, a country lawyer who became New Jersey's first governor elected to successive four-year terms, died May 27 at his home in Captiva, Fla. He had been in declining health since a 1986 stroke.

Gov. Meyner, a Democrat, gained national attention during his terms in office from 1954 to 1962. He campaigned tirelessly to win the state's highest office at a time when Republicans dominated state government.

He became the state's first Democratic governor since 1940. He surprised some by keeping a number of Republicans in his cabinet, saying he had to find the best people to fit the jobs.

A fiscal conservative, Gov. Meyner was credited with keeping a balanced state budget and with ably handling basic services such as administering the water supply and managing land. He oversaw the completion of the New Jersey Turnpike in the mid-1950s.

His success in the state put him in demand for speaking engagements across the country. From 1958 to early 1960, he was considered a possibility for the Democratic nomination for president.

He left office because state law prohibits governors from serving three consecutive terms. In 1969, he was nominated for another term, losing to Republican William T. Cahill.

New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio issued a statement yesterday praising Gov. Meyner as being "among the first of our governors in recent memory to speak out on New Jersey pride and New Jersey's spirit."

Survivors include his wife, Helen, who served in Congress from 1974 to 1978, of Captiva; and a brother.