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Robert D. Gioia

Robert D. Gioia has left his imprint across the region, from the Buffalo waterfront and the downtown medical corridor to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

He has served as president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, the area’s largest private charitable foundation, since 2006. During that time, the foundation has been a catalyst for change to enhance the quality of life and revive the economy of the Buffalo Niagara region.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is becoming a reality in part because of his efforts. In January, the foundation donated $5 million toward the new University at Buffalo Medical School. That followed a $10 million gift, the largest in the foundation’s 74-year history, toward the new and renamed John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in 2012.

Gioia also is chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which is remaking Canalside and the waterfront following years of neglect and failed, silver-bullet schemes.

Gioia’s high-profile leadership positions are only the latest he has held in decades of service to the community, dating back to his days in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he was Gov. Mario Cuomo’s political emissary here.

Gioia served as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board for much of the 1990s, a period when the NFTA built a new terminal at the airport.

He also was chairman of Great Lakes Health, which oversaw a difficult affiliation between Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center, and has led the boards of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Darwin Martin House Restoration Corp., the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the Nichols School and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Erie County Stabilization Project.

He began his career as a part of the third generation operating the former Gioia Macaroni Co. Gioia, 66, graduated with an economics degree from the University at Buffalo. He has been a registered Democrat since his college days in a family well-known for its support of Republican candidates.

He has never run for office, though in 2005 he briefly considered running for mayor of Buffalo. He opted not to because, as The News wrote later, “it would have been a demotion.”

He has preferred to work largely behind the scenes, where he remains an influential master of the art of compromise.

“We need more Robert Gioias,” Andrew J. Rudnick, then president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said in a 2011 profile of Gioia.

Rudnick is not the only one who thinks so highly of him. This is the second time The Buffalo News has named Gioia an Outstanding Citizen, an honor he first received in 1998.

– Stephen T. Watson