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WILLIAM HOWARD PEARCE DIES; DEVELOPER AND PHILANTHROPIST

William Howard Pearce was a leading real estate developer and quiet philanthropist who gave generously of his time and money to many causes. He also was an invariably upbeat fellow who loved a good party and winning at gin rummy.

"He was delightful to be around," said a longtime friend, George F. Phillips.

Pearce, who planned some of the area's best-known housing subdivisions, died Thursday (Nov. 19, 1998) in Millard Fillmore Hospital after a brief illness. He was 76.

He was president of Pearce & Pearce Co., a real estate development and management firm founded in 1911.

The company developed more than 10,000 homes as well as many commercial and rental properties throughout Western New York.

Among housing tracts bearing the Pearce stamp are Woodstream Farms, the first exclusive subdivision in East Amherst; Village Green in Amherst; and Green Acres in the Town of Tonawanda.

"These communities have housed generations of people and are still evolving and viable," noted Pearce's son, William H. Jr.

In the 1970s, the company created one of the area's first industrial parks, in the Town of Tonawanda.

Pearce also was a board member of Half Moon Bay Ltd. in Jamaica.

A Buffalo native, he graduated from Amherst High School, Rutgers University and Harvard Business School.

During World War II, he was in the wave of infantrymen who landed at Utah Beach six hours into the D-Day invasion. He was with the 5th Infantry during the liberation of France and Czechoslovakia. He rose to the rank of captain.

After the war, has was among "the best and brightest" recruited by Ford Motor Co. under Robert McNamara, the father of corporate strategic planning.

But after several years, Pearce returned from Detroit to help his father, Howard W., expand the Pearce & Pearce real estate development enterprise.

Over subsequent years, Pearce joined the top echelon of Buffalo community leaders, serving on the boards of Millard Fillmore Hospitals, Marine Midland Bank, the University at Buffalo Foundation, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo Seminary, Canisius College, United Way, Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, Automobile Club of Western New York, YMCA and Niagara Frontier Builders Association.

He also was a longtime president of Buffalo Seminary.

Pearce's legacy was one of low-key philanthropy.

"Bill was very generous to the zoo and the Museum of Science, among others," said Donna M. Gioia, chairman of the Zoological Society board. "But he did a lot of it behind the scenes. Quietly. You usually didn't know it was happening."

"I don't know anyone who has given more of himself to this community," said Phillips, a former Science Museum board chairman who knew Pearce for 25 years.

At board meetings, "his criticisms were always constructive -- not meddlesome. He gave good, temperate advice," Phillips said.

Pearce was a past president of the Country Club of Buffalo and the Buffalo Club and past dean of the Saturn Club. He also was a member of New York City's Metropolitan Club and Chi Psi Fraternity.

He is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth Ward; his son William H. Jr. of New York City; two daughters, Elizabeth Cronin of Indianapolis and Nina Erensel of New York City; his stepmother, Jane Pearce of Amherst; a half brother, F.W. Pearce of New York City; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at noon Dec. 5 in St. Joseph's University Catholic Church, 3269 Main St.

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