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FRANCES G. CHURCHILL, PHILANTHROPIST, SUPPORTER OF ARTS, EDUCATION, DIES AT 82

In the late 1980s, after she moved back to Buffalo, Frances G. Churchill told a close friend that she wanted to join the Buffalo Club.

The friend reminded her that the august club didn't admit women members, except for widows whose husbands had been members.

"Well, they should," Mrs. Churchill replied. "I know it can be worked out."

And so it was. Late in 1988, Mrs. Churchill, who believed strongly in women's and minorities' rights, became one of the first two women members of the club.

Mrs. Churchill -- a local philanthropist known for her support of the arts, education and human-service agencies -- died Wednesday (Jan. 20, 1999) after her car collided with a tractor-trailer in Wyoming County. She was 82.

Friends and relatives believe the energetic Mrs. Churchill, who had felt snowbound in the past few weeks, just wanted to get out of her Orchard Park home and take a drive.

"She never slowed down in any aspect of her life," said Arnold B. Gardner, a longtime friend and her attorney.

"She was a great lady," Gardner added. "She had a strong personality of her own, great intelligence and a keen insight into people, business matters and current affairs."

A Buffalo native who attended the University of Buffalo and later worked in a New York City talent agency, the former Frances G. Mack married the Rev. Clinton H. Churchill in 1951. He was an ordained Methodist minister, an early television evangelist and a local business leader who founded WKBW radio and TV.

Churchill, pastor of Churchill Tabernacle, put the WKBW radio station on the air in 1926, later using the call letters to coin the station's "Well Known Bible Witness" slogan. WKBW-TV went on the air in the mid-1950s. Churchill and his partners sold both stations to Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp. in 1961.

Mrs. Churchill became a key figure in her husband's many business ventures, serving as a sounding board for his latest ideas.

"She was a participant, and he relied very heavily on her judgment," Gardner said. "She always had a good ear for business."

Mrs. Churchill loved telling the story about the time she and her husband were flying back from New York City in about 1960. Two men seated directly behind them were talking about the imminent sale of the television and radio stations.

Churchill started talking to his wife.

"Be quiet, Clinton," she said. "I'm learning more by listening to them than to you."

Mrs. Churchill, who clearly loved to tell a story, enjoyed recounting the tale about her husband's hiring successes at WKBW-TV. He hired three young men -- Tom Jolls to do the weather, Rick Azar for sports, and Irv Weinstein for news -- then told his wife:

"Frances, with these guys, we hit the jackpot."

The Churchills were major philanthropists. In 1970, Churchill presented Canisius College with a $500,000 gift toward construction of the 11-story Churchill Academic Tower.

Even after her husband's death in 1973, Mrs. Churchill continued the philanthropic efforts, focusing totally on local charities and organizations.

She donated generously to Canisius College, Children's Hospital, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and other agencies including the Blind Association of Western New York, St. Mary's School for the Deaf, the Salvation Army, Studio Arena Theater and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

In the late 1980s, Mrs. Churchill served on the board of Canisius College, which later awarded her an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Mrs. Churchill was a championship golfer, winning many trophies at the Orchard Park Country Club and two clubs in Florida.

Two years ago, friends and family wanted to throw an 80th birthday party for Mrs. Churchill. But she politely declined.

"I want to think ahead, not backward," she explained.

Surviving are four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Mrs. Churchill was also preceded in death by her two children, Edythe and Clinton D.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in the (Edythe) Churchill Memorial United Methodist Church on Boston State Road in Boston. Burial will be in Forest Lawn.

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