Every town could use an Arnold Gardner, someone who tries to make the place better not just with words but with deeds. Gardner, one of Buffalo's renowned lawyers, charged into arenas where he could improve the quality of public education, especially in aging cities like Buffalo.
He sought to even the playing field for urban youth when he served on the Buffalo School Board, the State University of New York board of trustees and then the State Board of Regents. He wanted minorities to gain more influence over their schools, and he pushed to recruit more minorities as teachers. "He viewed education as one of the great levelers," his son, Jonathan, told reporter Gene Warner of The News. "He was always more interested in the lowest-functioning schools because they were serving the least-advantaged people."
Perhaps it was his concerns about education that drew him toward political leaders. He advised, among others, Buffalo Mayors Anthony M. Masiello and then Byron W. Brown -- occasionally seeing himself as their protector as well. When Brown in 2007 tried to explain why he didn't know that his 16-year-old son had spirited off in the family auto, crashed it into three parked cars and fled, leading to a police inquiry, it was Gardner who seemed to appear from out of nowhere to defend the mayor to reporters.
Over his 80 years, Gardner collected more awards and accolades for his civic deeds than can be mentioned here, yet as far as we know he never lost his empathy for those who disagreed with him. Gardner, Buffalo's "outspoken liberal," as reporters called him when he served on the School Board in the 1970s, seemed to value being an everyday person who fit in at any level of the social strata.
In fact, he seemed to admire such a quality when he saw it in others. Upon the sudden death of Assemblyman William B. Hoyt in 1992, Gardner remembered him as someone who, despite his influence, "was also comfortable having a good beer in a pizza place."
He said something else of the late assemblyman that we think should now be said of Gardner himself on the occasion of his death: "He was a good guy. And a lot of us are going to miss him very much."