The passing of two major figures in higher education is worth noting. They left a lasting influence on their institutions.
The Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, 23rd president of Canisius College, died June 22 at age 81 from pancreatic cancer at Fordham University in New York City.
William J. Mariani, president of ECC from 1997 to 2006, died Sunday in Gates Vascular Institute at age 67. The cause was a heart-related ailment, according to his son, William J. Mariani II.
Cooke’s influence over Canisius College cannot be overstated. The changes he undertook – many quite difficult – transformed a commuter college, as News staff reporter Dale Anderson wrote, “clustered around Christ the King Chapel on its central quadrangle.”
By the time Cooke retired in 2010, Canisius had become a comprehensive private university, the area’s largest, expanding through 24 major projects, including eight residence halls for out-of-town students.
As his successor, John J. Hurley said, Cooke was “bold, visionary, energetic, optimistic and a true leader in every sense of the word.” His 17 years at the college took it from subdued to supercharged, with the ability to excite the community and lure out-of-town prospects.
Cooke took on capital improvement projects that increased the college’s footprint and raised academic standards. His leadership and devotion to community were recognized by numerous organizations. He was named a Buffalo News Outstanding Citizen in 2001, the year he was ranked as the second most influential leader in a Buffalo News poll.
Mariani’s decade as ECC president – from 1997 to 2006 – included many changes in curriculum. Most notably those changes emphasized workforce development and establishing new partnerships with area employers that would allow students to have access to internships and job opportunities.
As News staff reporter Jay Tokasz wrote, Mariani was credited with having a hand in reversing enrollment declines and budget deficits in the late 1990s and ensuring greater autonomy for the college through a deal with Erie County.
Both Cooke and Mariani continued giving back after retiring. Neither man stopped working for the betterment of others. They will both be missed.