July 14, 1944 — July 22, 2018
John Owen Toy had no family in this area. And this year, his sister Nancy Reedy, who lives on Long Island, wasn't able to be with him on his birthday.
But Mr. Toy, a retired City Honors and Buffalo State College history teacher, was far from alone.
A group of 10 good friends — college classmates, fellow bridge players and teaching colleagues — joined him at Seneca Health Care in West Seneca, eating pizza and chatting.
Eight days later, Mr. Toy died after a long illness at 74.
After Mr. Toy became ill a few years ago, "he wanted to stay here, and we told his sister as a group, informally, that we would be here for him," said Anne Harrington, who emphasized she was just one of the many friends who rallied around their friend, known during college days by his middle name, Owen.
Around a dozen people visited him regularly, supplemented by other friends who would visit, Harrington said. "When one of us wasn't around, someone else was," she said.
"A day didn't go by that he didn't have a visitor," said his sister.
Mr. Toy was born in Jamaica, N.Y., the youngest child of Layman Patrick and Jane M. Holland Toy and brother of Donald and Nancy.
He attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, and developed his interest in history and politics as a teenager, his sister said. He was absorbed by the 1960 presidential campaigns of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy, and his sister recalled that at age 16 he sat up all night to watch the returns on the family television.
"I woke up in the morning, and he had all these papers with the delegates on them, he had it all mapped out," she said.
Mr. Toy graduated from LeMoyne College in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts.
"There were a lot of people in our class from Buffalo," Harrington said.
"He was very opinionated and he had a very strong voice," Harrington said. "Back in those days, they would tell you where to sit. We had seven classes a day and he sat behind me, and I listened to that strident voice all day long, every day, for a whole year."
After graduation, Mr. Toy moved to Buffalo to be with his group of friends.
His first job was at a grade school in Buffalo. He later worked at the Buffalo Arts Academy, now the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.
He next taught at South Park High School before moving to City Honors, where he taught until his retirement in 2000.
"He was unreal when it came to European history," said his sister. "He used to tell us that when he taught, he was telling a story, and he made all these people come to life whereas so often in history it's just names and dates."
Although "he loved his students," his classes were far from easy, his sister said. "He was a tough teacher if the students didn't do what he wanted them to do."
In 2010, Olympic bobsled gold medalist Steve Mesler, a 1996 graduate of City Honors, recalled Mr. Toy's influence. During a ceremony in which he received the key to the City of Buffalo, Mesler cited the influence of two coaches and "teachers like John Toy of City Honors," Mesler said, "all they did was see something in me and give all they had."
Mr. Toy taught European history at Buffalo State until retiring in 2014.
He was an avid bridge player. In 2009, Mr. Toy talked about bridge to Buffalo News reporter Jane Kwiatkowski. "It's a marathon that takes getting used to," he said. "I've been playing since my early 20s, and it never gets boring. It can be very addictive. I've had friends who flunked out of college because of bridge."
Mr. Toy played in tournaments all over the world, said Harrington. His sister estimated he had earned hundreds of master points.
But he was knowledgeable in many areas, said Reedy. "He was a very well-rounded guy. We used to say he should go on 'Jeopardy.'"
Mr. Toy was a fan of the Mets and Buffalo Bills. Harrington said, "He was such a good person. When a friend of ours got sick, he took her to all her treatments."
A longtime resident of the Elmwood Village, he moved several times in the past few years as his illness progressed.
At Peregine Senior Living in Cheektowaga, "they got to know him and they dubbed him "Professor,'" said Reedy. "He used to help some of the aides' children with their history homework."
Besides his sister, Mr. Toy is survived by several cousins, two nieces, one nephew, seven grandnieces and grandnephews.
A memorial service will be held at a time and date to be announced.