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Funeral service held for Ralph Wilson; Russ Brandon thanks fans for support

Mary Wilson leaves the funeral for her husband, Ralph Wilson Jr., on Saturday at the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian church in Detroit. Photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

DETROIT -- Family, friends and some National Football League dignitaries paid their last respects to Ralph C. Wilson Jr. at a funeral service this morning.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was among the mourners for the Buffalo Bills owner at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Wilson, the Bills' founder and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died at age 95 on Tuesday.

"I just want to offer thanks on behalf of the Wilson family - Mary Wilson and his daughters Christie and Dee Dee - and the entire organization and family," said Bills President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon after the service. "The outpouring of support from our fans, our community and our region has been overwhelming."

"Today was a tremendous tribute, in ceremony and celebration, of Mr. Wilson's life and accomplishments, not only in the game of football but in serving his country in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters," Brandon said. "His philantrhopic and community endeavors were all spoken to today, and it was truly a tribute to his incredible life. We thank everyone for their support."

The private service was relatively small for a man of Wilson's stature, with slightly more than 100 people in attendance. Besides Goodell, Detroit Lions owner William Ford Jr., and members of the Hunt family, which owns the Kansas City Chiefs, were there. There were not a lot of NFL executives due to the private nature of the service.

The Wilson family plans to have a memorial service in the near future at which Wilson's fellow owners, along with team employees and former players, can honor his memory.

The Bills' senior executives all were in attendance, along with Hall-of-Fame coach Marv Levy, Hall-of-Fame running back Thurman Thomas, and former Bills general manager Buddy Nix.

A celebration for fans of the life and legacy of Wilson will be held in the Bills Fieldhouse from 1 to 4 p.m. April 5. The event will feature memorabilia, exhibits, and a guestbook for fans to share their respects and pay tribute to Wilson.


Gallery: Saying goodbye to Ralph Wilson

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