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Ronald H. Tills, 82, former Assemblyman and acting State Supreme Court Judge

May 1, 1935 – Feb. 4, 2018

Ronald H. Tills, a former Assemblyman and acting State Supreme Court Justice, died unexpectedly Feb. 4 in his home in West Falls. He was 82.

Judge Tills, a Republican, was elected to Albany in 1968 from the 147th Assembly District, representing southern Erie County, and served five terms. He was a member of the Codes and Judiciary committees.

Appointed to the State Court of Claims by Gov. George Pataki in 1995, he became an acting State Supreme Court Justice and remained on the bench until he reached mandatory retirement age in 2005.

Regarded as a tough sentencing judge, he made headlines in 1998 when he married a couple in handcuffs who had been convicted for a knifepoint robbery in Lackawanna, then handed out their prison terms.

His most famous case involved plastic surgeon Anthony Pignataro, whom he sent to prison following the death of a patient under his care. When Pignataro was released and violated parole by contacting his estranged wife and abusing alcohol and drugs, Judge Tills sent him back behind bars.

"He was a person who was constantly on the go," said his wife, Elizabeth. "He was a doer."

Born in Buffalo, he was a graduate of Hamburg High School. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo, he attended the UB Law School with his brother Robert and received his juris doctor degree in 1959.

After he and his brother were admitted to the bar, they joined their father’s law office in Buffalo. They opened their own practice in Hamburg in 1966. Joined by Seth Abbott, who went on to become a State Supreme Court Justice, and Kenneth Knapp, the firm became Abbott, Tills, Tills and Knapp in 1971.

Mr. Tills followed his father, a Hamburg town attorney and longtime Republican committeeman, into politics. In 1962, he was elected Hamburg town justice. He conceived and developed the acclaimed Youth Jury program, where youthful offenders were prosecuted by their peers. It was the model for similar programs across the nation.

As an Assemblyman, he gave former Rep. Thomas Reynolds his start in government. The year after Reynolds worked on his reelection campaign in 1972, Mr. Tills hired him as a legislative aide in Albany. The two became close friends and partners in property development.

He returned to private practice until his judicial appointment in 1995. After retiring in 2005, he presided as a judicial hearing officer in the state court system.

He stepped down in 2008 when federal agents began investigating his role in providing prostitutes for weekend outings in Pennsylvania and Kentucky held by the Royal Order of Jesters, a fraternal organization in which he was a member.

He pleaded guilty in federal court to violation of the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across state lines for the purposes of prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In recent years, he turned to community service and volunteer work.

He served in the Army Reserve and was a cook instructor at Fort Dix, N.J., before he was honorably discharged in 1965.

He was a line officer for 10 years in Fraternal Lodge 625, Free & Accepted Masons, and was Master in 1972. He also was active in the Ismailia Shrine, serving as Potentate in 1996. He arranged for performances of the Shrine Circus, held for many years in Memorial Auditorium, to be moved to the Erie County Fairgrounds.

He was a lifelong member of the Hamburg United Methodist Church and took part in Bible studies. For several years, he joined in church mission work in Kentucky. He also ran the church’s Lenten fish fry dinners.

He was a member of the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department, donated more than five gallons as a Red Cross blood donor and donated platelets at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

An avid gardener, for many years he grew vegetables and flowers in the large yard behind his home across from his law offices in Hamburg. He sold his produce at the local farmers market and shared it with friends.

A resident of West Falls since 2009, he worked once a week at the Central City Cafe soup kitchen. He also was chief cook at family gatherings and social organization picnics.

He was married to the former Elizabeth Clarkson in 1960. In retirement, they traveled extensively, visiting more than 75 countries around the world.

She described her husband as a "great man of faith."

"His family was a grounding influence," she said. "He was just just such a go-to person."

In addition to his wife and his brother, survivors include a daughter, Suzanne Goodridge; a son, Thomas; a sister, Judith Gregory; four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 5 in Hamburg United Methodist Church, 116 Union St., Hamburg.

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