July 3, 1929 – Sept. 22, 2017
Midway through a press conference announcing his appointment as interim executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, Dominic J. Terranova broke into a huge grin after someone interrupted the event to whisper three words to him.
"It's a boy!" were the words whispered by Mr. Terranova's secretary, Anne Marie Higgins, delivering the news of the birth of his seventh grandchild.
To those who knew him, the little incident from April, 1990 sums up his attitude about life, family and his careers as a lawyer and public servant.
"He loved the law. He loved public service, but the thing that was really important to him was his family," recalled his son, Buffalo defense lawyer Joseph J. Terranova.
A highly-respected attorney who was in private practice for 55 years and was active in community affairs and Democratic Party politics, Mr. Terranova died on Sept. 22 in the Harris Hill Skilled Nursing Facility, following a short illness. The Lancaster resident was 88.
"No matter what was going on in his work, Dominic always put things in the right perspective," said Lawrence M. Meckler, another former NFTA executive director who worked under Mr. Terranova as a lawyer for several years.
He was raised on Buffalo's East Side and the Village of Depew. After graduating from Depew High School, he earned his undergraduate degree from the State University at Buffalo and then a law degree from UB Law School. He spent three years as a military lawyer with the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps in Fort Monmouth, N.J., reaching the rank of first lieutenant. He returned to Western New York in 1955. Mr. Terranova worked briefly for a Buffalo law firm before setting up his own law practice on Broadway in Lancaster.
Mr. Terranova became active in politics, and he served for 10 years as the chairman of the Lancaster Democratic Party. He also served as a committeeman for the state Democratic Party. He spent 25 years as Lancaster's town attorney, served briefly as a Lancaster village justice, and also served for a time as general counsel to the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency.
His most high-profile government job was in the NFTA, where he was general counsel from 1986 to 1991. He spent six months in 1990 as NFTA's interim executive director.
During his time at NFTA, Mr. Terranova helped to negotiate the purchase of a large tract of land that had been owned by the Westinghouse Electric Co., adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The 1989 land deal – which was controversial at the time – cleared the way for a major expansion of the airport.
The NFTA also suffered through some major financial difficulties during his tenure, including a budget dispute that led to a two-day shutdown of Metro bus and rail service in April 1990.
Mr. Terranova never lost his cool on the job and always looked for peaceful ways to solve problems, recalled Meckler, who served as his deputy general counsel.
Similar comments came from Raymond F. Gallagher, another former NFTA executive director. "Dominic was always a calming factor, very easy to work with," Gallagher said. "He was always a gentleman. I saw him get emphatic about things at time, but I never once saw him lose his cool."
Mr. Terranova also enjoyed friendly sparring with news reporters during his years with NFTA. Buffalo News reporter Robert J. McCarthy recalled a Sunday morning when Mr. Terranova called him at home to give him a hard time about a story McCarthy wrote on some questionable incidents involving a man who was trying to negotiate a business deal with NFTA.
"I asked Dominic, 'Is there anything in the story that was wrong?'" McCarthy said. "He said, 'No, I just wanted to tell you that you ruined my Sunday morning.'"
Active in charities and community affairs, Mr. Terranova was a participant in the Lancaster Lions Club, the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St. John's.
With his wife of 64 years, the former Mary Renzoni, he loved traveling around the country to visit his 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Mr. Terranova also enjoyed golfing with close friends and sailing his 21-foot boat on Canandaigua Lake.
When his two sons and four daughters were young, Mr. Terranova loved taking them out swimming, skating and sledding.
"The focus of his life was always family," Joseph Terranova said.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Terranova is survived by another son, Michael; four daughters, Marilyn, Diane Waterman, Anne Gaca and Lisa Shipman.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 in Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 158 Laverack Ave., Lancaster.