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Mary Ellen Hager-Goodell, 70, retired health care executive, SPCA board member

May 18, 1948 – Dec. 8, 2018

When Mary Ellen Hager met Joseph E. Goodell, she was senior vice president of WholeHealth Insurance Network Inc., the parent company of Blue Shield. He was president and chief executive officer of American Brass Co. and former chairman of the Greater Buffalo Partnership.

Around the time they married in 1993, Ms. Hager-Goodell retired from her job.

Then, she immersed herself in cultural, charitable and philanthropic efforts – including serving on the board of the SPCA Serving Erie County.

Both the Goodells "were extremely generous," said their longtime friend, Mary Martino. "They were generous with friends, generous with their time; they were lovely, both of them."

Ms. Hager-Goodell was diagnosed with leukemia in February. She died Dec. 8, 2018, in her Williamsville home, cared for by family and friends with assistance from Hospice Buffalo. She was 70.

She was born in Buffalo, the daughter of Robert Augustus and Rita (Bonn) Hager and sister of John and Robert Hager. She graduated from Cheektowaga High School in 1966, then studied business management at Medaille College.

Ms. Hager-Goodell worked as a physical therapist at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, then was employed through Manpower before joining Blue Shield of Western New York in 1979, where she held several executive positions.

In 1992, she was named senior vice president of WholeHealth Insurance Network Inc., the parent company of Blue Shield, and frequently served as company spokesperson.

In the early 1990s, she met Joseph Goodell. They decided to marry while aboard the Dagny Taggart, a luxury railroad car he had refurbished for his private use.

"The most romantic way to get engaged is on a railway car, a private railway car," Ms. Hager-Goodell told a Buffalo News reporter after the railcar arrived in Atlanta for the 1994 Super Bowl.

The couple often took pleasure trips by rail with friends and business associates, and traveled the world, including viewing wildlife in Africa.

"They both loved to cook," said Martino. "She loved parties and people, and they were great conveners — they brought so many people together."

After her husband was named interim executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1995, Ms. Hager-Goodell served on many BPO committees and hosted visiting artists.

They were both active in supporting Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she was successfully treated for lung cancer 12 years ago. At the time of her death, Ms. Hager-Goodell was a member of Roswell Park's Gratwick Society.

"She was a wonderful woman," said Kim Guido, director of individual gifts and donor stewardship for the Roswell Park Alliance. "She was beautiful inside and out."

The Goodells lived in a waterfront condominium in downtown Buffalo and built a home on the lake shore in Derby where they often entertained. They welcomed friends and relatives to their vacation retreat at Jumby Bay in Antigua.

After her husband's death on June 4, 2009, Ms. Hager-Goodell moved to Williamsville.

Ms. Hager-Goodell was a dedicated animal lover with a special affinity for golden retrievers. In 2002, she joined the board of directors of the SPCA Serving Erie County, serving as assistant treasurer, treasurer and secretary.

She chaired the SPCA’s Wild About Classics event in 2004 and hosted it at her home. In 2007, she co-chaired the organization’s Party With the Pack and donated a cocktail party for 15 on the railcar as an auction prize.

Ms. Hager-Goodell was one of the original chairs of the SPCA’s capital campaign.

“She was a passionate and involved board member who co-chaired our Development Committee until her illness made it impossible," said SPCA Board Chair Sarah Dayton. "She continued to be involved while in the hospital and recuperating at home."

Her pets — golden retriever Lilly, goldendoodle Casey and cat Jack — have found new homes with family and a friend.

Ms. Hager-Goodell was a master of fine sewing. With Martino, also a needlework enthusiast, she traveled around the United States, Canada and Europe to train with expert instructors and acquire fine fabrics. They designed and produced heirloom christening gowns for friends and family.

She is survived by a brother, John Hager; four stepdaughters, Marian Goodell, Peggy Goodell Trout, Martha Goodell and Melly Goodell Olszyk; and seven step-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday in the Buffalo Club, 388 Delaware Ave.

News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report.

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