We offer a tribute and shed a tear for those Buffalonians who left us in 2017. They made their impressions on us and our community in many memorable ways.
We bid farewell to captains of commerce and industry, giants in the legal profession and artists who amused us with insights and dazzled us with stagecraft. They showed vision and not a small amount of daring.
Among them are a banker who saw potential in our city when it was down and out, a playwright who found universal truths in our once-grand high society and an intrepid FBI agent who went face to face with the bad guys.
They also include a football player who sparked a historic protest against racial discrimination and judges who broke down color barriers in the schools and gender restrictions in the courts.
They all were shining lights. Our lives are brighter thanks to their achievements.
• Willie R. Evans, 79, star University of Buffalo halfback and one of two black players turned down for the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, prompting the team to reject the bid, died Jan. 4.
He was drafted for the inaugural season of the American Football League’s Buffalo Bills, but after he did not get to play, he went on to teach and coach in Buffalo schools for more than 30 years, ran a city parks athletic program and served as an adviser for the UB Alumni Association.
• Robert J. A. Irwin III, 89, bank and investment fund executive, longtime head of Niagara Capital and civic leader, died Jan. 9.
Known for his strategic insights and his ability to transform projects, he was a trustee of the Baird Foundation for 55 years and a past president of numerous organizations, including the Shaw Festival Foundation, the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Foundation, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Foundation, and the Old Fort Niagara Association.
• MaryAnn Killeen-Ast, 89, longtime Erie County Family Court judge and first woman to be elected a Family Court Judge in New York State, died Jan. 10.
A UB Law School graduate, she was an attorney before she won her first 10-year term in 1967. Re-elected in 1977 and 1987, she could have remained on the bench through 1997, but took early retirement in 1989, having served longer in Family Court than any other jurist up until that time. She also presided for eight years as Family Court’s supervising judge, another record.
• John B. “J. B.” Walsh, 89, a major figure in Democratic politics, legal circles and the arts for more than half a century, died Feb. 5.
A confidant of mayors dating back to Frank A. Sedita and governors dating back to Nelson Rockefeller, he was an attorney and lobbyist who promoted the interests of the City of Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and other major clients in Albany and Washington, D.C.
• Leonard Silver, 90, who built Record Theatre into one of the longest-running independent record stores in the country, died March 10.
Beginning as a stock boy of a record store in his native Rochester, he became a wholesale record distributor, eventually the fourth-largest in the country. He promoted concerts, founded a record label, Amherst Records, and then established a chain of Record Theatre stores. At its peak, it had 37 locations.
• Rosalind Cramer, 81, actress and director who co-founded the Theatre of Youth in Buffalo, died April 7.
After coming to Buffalo in 1965, she taught theater arts for 36 years at Rosary Hill College, later Daemen College, and directed and performed in numerous productions. A children’s theater conference in Albany in 1972 inspired her and the late Toni Smith Wilson to establish the Theatre of Youth Company, now headquartered in the Allendale Theatre.
• John T. Curtin, 95, the federal judge who desegregated Buffalo schools, died April 14.
In a series of rulings beginning in 1976, Judge Curtin set in motion a revision of the school system, which resulted in the hiring of more minority teachers and creation of numerous magnet schools to attract both black and white students. He also presided over the lawsuit that forced Occidental Chemical to pay for cleanup of toxic wastes in Love Canal in Niagara Falls.
• A. R. Gurney, 86, acclaimed playwright who chronicled upper-class customs and anxieties, died June 13.
Born into a prominent Buffalo family, he wrote his first play in kindergarten and went on to teach literature and drama at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 25 years before he had his first major successes in the 1980s. He has more than 50 plays to his credit, of which the best known is “Love Letters,” which chronicles the relationship of an aging man and woman over many years.
• Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, 81, 23rd president of Canisius College who built it into comprehensive private university, died June 22.
During his 17-year tenure, academic standards were raised, new major programs were established, the faculty-student ratio was lowered and enrollment was increased by recruiting students from outside Western New York. He also expanded the campus physically and acquiring a nearby former Sears store for a science center, converting a neighboring church into a cultural center, turning the former Mount St. Joseph Academy into a modern classroom facility.
• Neil J. Welch, 90, a crime-fighting FBI agent who made his mark in Buffalo in the late 1960s with arrests of fugitive Winston Moseley and mob boss Stefano Magaddino, died June 29.
His achievements here earned him promotions to head the FBI office in Detroit and then in Philadelphia. He wound up in the bureau’s No. 2 post, leading the FBI’s largest office in New York City. There he oversaw the Abscam investigation, which resulted in convictions that included six members of the House of Representatives and a New Jersey senator for accepting bribes.
• Joseph Castiglia, 83, Pratt & Lambert president who helped establish Catholic Health, died Sept. 19.
A certified public accountant, he joined Pratt & Lambert as treasurer in 1967, became president in 1982 and retired in 1996 after it was sold to the Sherwin-Williams Co. Also a director and chairman of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York in the 1990s, he worked with Bishop Henry Mansell in 1998 to turn the area’s Catholic hospitals and nursing homes into a comprehensive network.
• Frank J. Clark III, 74, served 12 years as Erie County district attorney, died Sept. 22.
A combat officer in the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War, he returned to practice law, then became chief of the Organized Criminal Drug Enforcement Task Force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, chief of the Violent Felony Bureau in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and then first deputy district attorney before he was elected district attorney in 1997.
• James J. Allen, 68, longtime executive director of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, died Oct. 31.
After serving for six years as president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, he went on to become the man who “put Amherst on the map” in terms of economic development. From 1979 to 2016, he expedited hundreds of projects with tax incentives that resulted in tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in investments.
• Joey Scinta, 69, a Buffalo musician who became a major attraction in Las Vegas showrooms, died Nov. 17.
A bassist, guitarist and singer known for his impressions of Jerry Lewis, Joe Cocker and Neil Diamond, he joined with his brother, Frankie, and sister, Chrissie, in a show group, the Scintas, which toured across the nation. After settling into Las Vegas in 2000, they enjoyed great success in the casinos and were familiar faces on local television and billboards.
• Robert G. Wilmers, 83, longtime CEO and chairman built M&T Bank into regional force, died Dec. 16.
Coming from Morgan Guaranty Trust, where he led its operation in Belgium, he headed an investment group which acquired the bank and oversaw its massive growth from 50 offices locally to more than 800 across the Northeast, with assets that grew from $2 billion to $120 billion. Regarded as the dean of the Buffalo business community, he was a major philanthropist and guiding force, supporting cultural institutions ranging from the Buffalo Zoo to the Darwin Martin House, fostering improvement in Buffalo schools and providing an influential voice on financial issues and public policy.
• Irv Weinstein, 87, revered WKBW-TV news anchorman, died Dec. 26.
Famous for his alliterative tabloid news phrases, calling holdup suspects “pistol-packing punks” and referring to firefighters as “Buffalo blaze busters,” he became the city’s most popular television personality during his 34 years at the helm of Eyewitness News on Channel 7. He was a legend not only here, but across the nation and in Canada, where he was a cult favorite.
Also of note:
Theodore L. Lownie, 80, renowned preservation architect, died Jan. 17.
Richard E. Moot, 96, outspoken longtime attorney won benefits for 20,000 Bethlehem Steel employees in U.S. Supreme Court, died Jan. 29.
A. Paddy Rowell Sr., 89, owner of Flexlume Sign Co. created many notable local movie marquees and illuminated signs, died Jan. 30.
Barbara L. Wagner, 80, founding director of Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus and longtime minister of music at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, died Feb. 17.
David C. Forness, 77, owned Gabriel’s Gate and other downtown Buffalo restaurants, died March 9.
Rev. J. Donald Monan, 92, Blasdell native who headed and transformed Boston College, died March 18.
Julius “Joe” Diamond, 88, Holocaust survivor who shared his story with thousands, died March 19.
Doug Smith, 81, colorful newsman, sportswriter and TV personality, died April 20.
Brad Grey, 59, UB grad turned Hollywood mogul, died May 14.
George A. Vossler, 91, Conservative Party founder credited with getting Jimmy Griffin elected mayor of Buffalo, died June 1.
Ron Corsaro, 79, Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and artistic director of the Lewiston Jazz Festival, died June 2.
Amy Y. Maxwell, 42, activist fostered “smarter and cooler Buffalo,” died June 2.
Rabbi Shay E. Mintz, 80, educator and spiritual leader headed Hillel at the University at Buffalo, died June 3.
Mollie M. Milch, 97, Buffalo School Board president in the 1950s and mother of award-winning screenwriter David Milch, died June 20.
Mario J. Pirastru, 88, regional state park director for nearly two decades, died July 7.
Jeremiah Goodman, 94, architectural illustrator renowned for portraits of interiors, died Sept. 7.
Lou Marino, 80, drummer and teacher was one of the giants of Buffalo jazz, died Sept. 29.
Paul H. MacClennan, 91, award-winning Buffalo News environmental writer, died Oct. 2.
Warren L. Enters, 95, Tony Award-winning director and drama professor at Buff State, died Oct. 25.
Dr. Robert F. Anderle, 90, region’s leading ornithologist, instrumental in founding Tifft Nature Preserve, died Oct. 29.
Bonnie Laettner, 74, teacher, mother of basketball great Christian Laettner, died Nov. 26.
Michael J. LoCurto, 46, former Delaware District Common Council Member and current deputy commissioner of Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, died Dec. 29.