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Notable deaths in WNY in 2014

No event in 2014 marked the end of an era as much as the death March 25 of Ralph C. Wilson Jr., the founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills. ¶ His departure continues to reverberate among us, but it was not the only notable death of the Buffalo community. ¶ The year saw the passing of many others who inspired our admiration and stirred our emotions with their accomplishments, their talents and their determination. ¶ Some rose to great heights as elected officials. Some guided commercial enterprises to the kind of success that made them integral parts of our civic identity. ¶ Several took the reins of our treasured franchises and enhanced them with their personal stamp. Others found opportunity here to distinguish themselves in a great variety of fields. And still others touched our hearts with their heroic personal struggles. ¶ Each and every of them contributed to how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to one another. They were an important part of us and, in many ways, we’re going to miss them.

Lumon Ross, 75, died Jan. 7, president and co-founder of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York.

He led the group as it inspired African-American entrepreneurs in starting and growing businesses.

Outspoken and energetic, he was never afraid to speak out when he thought black business owners were being shut out of opportunities, overtly or through more subtle exclusion.

For years, Mr. Ross was a constant presence at meetings of the Joint Schools Construction Board, pressing to make sure black businesses and workers were included in the $1 billion effort to reconstruct Buffalo schools.

Under his leadership, the Chamber collaborated with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Buffalo Urban League and others in sponsoring workshops on starting, running or growing a business, all the way to creating succession plans.

Friends describe him as “unbossed and unbought,” a label that served him well in the many years he served his community.

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Burt Notarius, 70, died March 21, head of Premier Wine & Spirits.

He turned Premier Liquor into a household name and also was an early supplier of gourmet foods for Western New Yorkers. With a master’s degree in business from the University at Buffalo, he and family members built the original Premier Liquor store into one of the largest wine and spirits businesses in the country.

Everyone knew him as Burt, and he was a master of taking the mystery out of selecting and drinking wine, and ran his stores with memorable enthusiasm and an intuitive sense of what customers wanted.

“He was a man of tremendous passion and industry,” said his son Mark. “There are so many winemakers who went on to become famous who remember my dad because he was among the first to buy their wine.”

He also supported dozens of nonprofits and colleges, including D’Youville, Canisius and Buffalo State colleges, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and several local theaters.

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Ralph C. Wilson, 95, died March 25, founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills.

Even though he never lived in Buffalo, the impact Ralph Cookerly Wilson Jr. had on the community resonated across generations. As founder and owner of the Bills for more than 50 years, he was the most influential sports figure the region ever has known.

Today, the team he bought in 1959 for $25,000 is possibly the single-most identifiable and unifying institution in Western New York.

The fortunes of the team were a measure of how Mr. Wilson was viewed by the community, but in the end it was his loyalty that endured. Despite other opportunities, he stayed in the team’s shrinking market, the second smallest in the 32-team league, while acknowledging the passion of the fans.

In 1997, Mr. Wilson said of the area’s hard-working families, “You know how the people here feel about you because they are very straightforward. That is a quality I admire.”

That admiration will be continuing. Ralph Wilson arranged for proceeds from the sale of the team – $1.4 billion – to go to the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, with the mandate that it focus its giving on Buffalo and his hometown of Detroit.

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Ben Sauer, 5, died May 13, drew wide support in Blue4Ben campaign to help pay for his cancer treatments.

One of the most heartbreaking losses of the year came May 13, when 5-year-old Ben Sauer of Clarence lost his battle with cancer.

With his curly hair and dimples, Ben became famous through his mother’s blog and through the Blue4Ben campaign, which was taken up by schools and churches throughout the area to raise money for his treatment and care. In three short months, from when he was diagnosed with a fast-moving brain tumor to his death just days after Mother’s Day, people from around the country followed his story at bensauer.blogspot.com.

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Lynn DeJac Peters, 50, died June 18, wrongfully convicted of killing her daughter and freed after being jailed nearly 14 years.

She spent 14 years in prison, wrongfully convicted in the strangulation death of her daughter Crystallyn Girard. Finally exonerated, she had seven years of freedom before dying of cancer at age 50.

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Julius Rudel, 93, died June 26, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra music director from 1978 to 1984.

After leading the New York City Opera and spearheading the careers of Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills, Julius Rudel arrived in Western New York for an eventful six years as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, from 1978 to 1984.

He arrived at the BPO at a touchy time, when the music community was divided over the avant-garde programming of previous directors Michael Tilson Thomas and Lukas Foss. In the end, Rudel’s Old World warmth and indisputable musicianship won over his audiences. His last concert with the orchestra was in 2002, when, at 81, he returned as guest conductor.

“He knew how to get the music out of us,” said BPO first violinist Marylouise Nanna. “He was always wonderful when he did those concerts with opera stars.

“You could tell he was in heaven when he was doing that.”

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Edward V. “Ned” Regan, 84, died Oct. 18, former state comptroller and Erie County executive.

Ned Regan – former Buffalo Common Council member, Erie County executive and state comptroller – often was considered a potential Republican candidate for governor. Though he never attained that goal, he served for years as the face of the state Republican Party and was one of the most influential New York politicians of his time.

“He loved being a public servant, and he was good at it,” said James M. Wadsworth, a close friend and political confidant. “Politics was not a bad word to him. Though he understood its foibles, he also recognized its strengths and its necessity.”

With his tall frame, curly hair and handsome bearing, the charismatic Regan seemed destined for higher office. As county executive from 1972 to 1978, he reorganized the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and established a foreign trade zone in Buffalo. He cut the county property tax rate and rooted out government fraud and abuses. Community-based mental health and human services also were improved under his direction.

Regan left the county post in 1978 for his successful campaign to become state comptroller – a position he held for four terms.

In 1993, at 62, he retired from politics, saying the “joy” was gone, but he made one last foray into local government as the first chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority from 2005 to 2006.

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Edythe “Kitty” Turgeon, 81, died Nov. 3, preservationist saved the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora.

Her name was Edythe, but everyone called her Kitty. She is credited with saving one of the area’s artistic and historical gems: East Aurora’s Roycroft Campus.

She had a passion for the Arts and Crafts movement and its local roots, developed after she married a Buffalo restaurateur and, on her first tour of the Roycroft Inn, asked, “Who the hell is Elbert Hubbard?” That was the beginning.

She turned her interest from interior decoration to historic preservation and the Roycroft movement, which she said “fit my philosophy of life.”

Ms. Turgeon was a founder of the Roycrofters at Large Association, the Foundation for the Study of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, and she was given a national Arts and Crafts Lifetime Achievement Award. She led the effort to get the campus National Historic Landmark status, and by doing gained access to funding and other resources to save the inn and its surrounding buildings.

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Tom Donnelly, 61, died Nov. 15, Turkey Trot director.

The local running community was stunned in November when Tom Donnelly, longtime director of the traditional Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, died at his home less than two weeks before the annual race.

Mr. Donnelly, marketing manager for the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, was a dedicated promoter of the run, which was founded in 1896 and is among the oldest in the country.

He began his own running career as an out-of-shape jogger, according to his family, and went on to run several marathons, including the Boston Marathon and the local Skylon Marathon. He also was director of the Buffalo Marathon and president of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame.

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Also of note:

Louis R. Reif, 90, died Jan. 22, former National Fuel Gas CEO.

Jack B. Prior, 88, died Jan. 26, major figure in Western New York aeronautics..

Thomas J. Harnisch, 75, died Feb. 1, youngest bowler ever to turn pro..

O. Burke Glaser, 79, died Feb. 17, director of Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Peter V. Perrone, 71, died May 7, owned alternative music nightclub Mohawk Place.

Charles E. Rath, 85, died June 14, president and CEO of Blue Cross of WNY for 17 years, founded Community Blue.

Peter J. Notaro, 79, died June 17, retired State Supreme Court justice.

Elwood M. “Woody” Wardlow, 90, died June 28, former managing editor at The News.

Julie Patrick, 88, died July 11, enshrined in the Roller Derby Hall of Fame.

Wilma G. Dee, 87, died July 31, taught figure skating to thousands locally.

Leonard L. Redlinski, 87, died Aug. 17, founded well-known local meat business.

Henry Z. Urban, 94, died Aug. 22, publisher of The Buffalo News from 1974 to 1983.

Leslie Feinberg, 65, died Nov. 15, transgender pioneer and author.

Richard Myers, 85, died Dec. 7, principal trombonist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for 39 years.

Frank L. Ciminelli, 80, died Dec. 26, started a residential construction company in the 1950s that grew into one of the area’s major development firms that built signature projects throughout the region.