David M. Downing didn't start with the family business right away.
But after he came aboard Towne Automotive Group, he helped grow the auto dealer group into one of the largest in Western New York.
Mr. Downing held a series of jobs at Towne during his more than two decades with the business, but he found his niche when he was named chief financial officer about nine years ago.
"That was his totally his kind of thing," said his brother Frank Downing Jr., the dealer group's president. "He was detailed, analytic."
Mr. Downing, an Orchard Park resident, died Sunday after a long struggle with cancer. He was 53.
He grew up in Orchard Park and graduated from Canisius High School. He earned a history degree at Princeton University and an MBA at the University at Buffalo.
Mr. Downing first worked at Procter & Gamble and Rich Products in sales and marketing roles.
"I think he wanted to do something to get experience outside of automotive [sales] and he knew the family business was there if he wanted to go into it," Frank Downing Jr. said. "He just wanted to branch off on to his own."
In 1994, Mr. Downing joined Towne. He and his brother worked side by side, expanding a business their father, Frank Downing Sr., had started by adding a variety of dealerships and brands.
"We took a lot of pride in that," Frank Downing Jr. said. "We wanted to take what our father did and make it bigger and better, and we had a lot of success with that. We took pride in helping grow the business and our team."
The brothers' personalities proved a good match. Where Frank Downing Jr. favored quick decisions and moving on, David Downing was methodical, ensuring everything had been carefully thought through. The two brothers had different responsibilities, and even worked in different buildings, but they communicated with each other frequently.
They were compatible even though David Downing had joined the family business much later than Frank Downing Jr., and David Downing held the role of vice president while his brother was president.
"I know that can create tension in some families, it never once did with us," Frank Downing Jr. said. "We had mutual respect for what each other brought to the table in running the company."
When the dealer group's longtime CFO, Mike Smith, retired several years ago, Mr. Downing moved into that role.
"I could not imagine a better partner," Frank Downing Jr. said. "He was not only the CFO, he was also my partner in the business."
Mr. Downing managed the dealer group's relationships with banks and insurance companies, and he dealt with Towne's real estate and franchise agreements.
Away from work, Mr. Downing relished time with wife, Karen, and their four sons. He was also a passionate golfer and played recreational hockey. Mr. Downing had played both sports for Princeton. Frank Downing Jr. laughs at the memory of going up against his brother on the ice, when David Downing's competitive edge would come out.
Mr. Downing also built a wide circle of friendships through work, his neighbors and nonprofits he was involved in.
"He was definitely an outgoing guy, charismatic and personable," Frank Downing Jr. said.
Mr. Downing's illness was a challenge in recent years. During the past two and a half years, he underwent six major surgeries.
Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association, called Mr. Downing "positively resilient" in the face of his illness.
"He had the unique ability to keep things in perspective, keep things positive and keep things moving forward, even when his own life was challenged," Stasiak said. "That's a huge character trait I don't think a lot of people have."
Stasiak said he admired how well Mr. Downing — whom Stasiak knew for about 30 years — and his brother worked together in the business.
"Dave liked to be that guy behind the curtain, making sure that Oz was running fine," Stasiak said.
Stasiak called Mr. Downing's death "a huge loss for the community, not just the family."
Even when Mr. Downing couldn't be at work, people were constantly inquiring about his health, and his co-workers pitched in without complaint, Frank Downing Jr. said. This week, those concerns turned into an outpouring of grief and memories shared. Frank Downing Jr. feels his brother will have an "everlasting impact" on Towne.
"He'll always forever be a key part of our team, even if he is not here," Frank Downing Jr. said.
Other survivors include Mr. Downing's four sons, Joseph, Stephen, David Jr. and Ethan; his brothers, Stephen and Matthew; and two sisters, Molly Regan and Gretchen Cappiello.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Michael Church, 651 Washington Ave., Buffalo.