May 23, 1921 – Dec. 7, 2013
George M. Martin, a decorated World War II veteran who was the first lay vice president of Canisius College, died Saturday in Autumn View Health Care Facility, Hamburg, after a long illness. He was 92.
The public face of the Jesuit college for many years as its executive vice president, Mr. Martin was well-known in educational and political circles. He served as parks commissioner under Mayor Frank A. Sedita, was chairman of the Niagara Frontier Parks and Recreation Commission under Gov. Hugh L. Carey, and at various times served on the boards of Canisius College and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.
“George’s life was devoted to service,” Canisius President John J. Hurley, a close friend and protégé, said Monday. “He had an amazingly fertile mind and an extraordinary ability to put ideas into action. And he had that uncanny knack of always being in the right place at the right time. All of this redounded to the benefit of Canisius College over the past six decades.
“Into that pantheon of great Canisius names of the past, names like Desmond, Koessler and Brady, we now enshrine the name of George Michael Martin. Truly, he was a Canisian for the ages.”
In a profile appearing in The Buffalo News upon his retirement from the college in 1988, a host of politicians ranging from longtime Erie County Democratic Chairman Joseph F. Crangle to future Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello all praised him as a guiding influence in shaping their careers.
Mr. Martin said at the time that although he could have pursued a successful law practice, no other experience outside his administrative career at Canisius could prove so satisfying.
“What would I have now?” he asked at the time. “A cellar full of files – so what? That’s nothing in the public service. Working with young people – that is refreshing.”
Born in Buffalo, he graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas School, St. Joe’s, Canisius College and the University of Buffalo Law School.
During World War II, he was a sergeant major in Europe, earning a Bronze Star, and served for many years as a captain in the Army Reserve.
After law school, Mr. Martin worked in private practice , including as a partner in the firm of Blair, White, Martin, Fitzgibbons and Roberts before joining Canisius in 1967.
Along the way, he never ventured far from the political arena. He served for three years as parks commissioner under Sedita, managed several campaigns for local Democratic candidates for the bench and was general chairman of the State Democratic Convention Committee in 1958. He was appointed chairman of the city’s Board of Assessors in 1967 and served as a member of Carey’s transition committee after the former Brooklyn congressman was elected governor in 1974.
He was also chairman of the Natural Heritage Trust, a state public benefit corporation that assists zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums and operated Artpark in Lewiston.
Mr. Martin helped to raise millions of dollars for significant physical expansion of the Canisius campus. And as a member of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, he helped establish the state’s Bundy Aid Program and Tuition Assistance Program in 1974.
The college recognized his contributions on several occasions with its LaSalle Medal in 1960, Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983 and an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 1988.
For many years, he also served his other alma mater – St. Joe’s – with the longest tenure of any layman as a member of its board of trustees.
Mr. Martin was a member of the Bishop’s Lay Advisory Council, Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo Athletic Club, Orchard Park Country Club, Wanakah Country Club, Buffalo Canoe Club, Buffalo Club and the Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice, Fla., where he had a winter home.
In 1955, he married Mary E. Tracey, who died the following year.
A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Dec. 21 in Christ the King Chapel at Canisius College, followed by a reception in the Student Center.
– Robert J. McCarthy