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Congresswoman, civil rights leader among notable local deaths of 2018

The notables who left us in 2018 inspired us with their achievements in many ways. They seized small opportunities and took them to impressive heights. They tackled pressing social and scientific challenges and saw them through to solutions. They gave generously of their time and resources to improve the world, foster their neighborhoods and provide a lifeline for those in distress.

Some were crusaders who fought tirelessly for fairness and broke through shackles of discrimination. Some followed an initial insight into great commercial success. Others gained distinction by upholding high standards in public office. And still others charmed our appetites, made us laugh and touched our hearts.

G. David Baer, 82, a computer analyst who co-founded Computer Task Group and helped build it into a nationwide software development company, died Aug. 21.

While working with IBM in 1960s, he and an IBM account executive, Randolph A. Marks, foresaw the need for companies to hire technical consulting services as they began to computerize their data processing operations. They started their own firm in 1966 and within a few years it had become the largest computer consultant provider in upstate New York.

William M. E. Clarkson, 91, who headed Graphic Controls and played a major role in downtown Buffalo development in the 1980s, died May 1.

Known for his innovative approach to consensus business management, he led his company to record earnings during the area’s dark economic times in the 1970s. He also was a leader in the area’s early historic preservation movement, fostered the publication of the landmark book, “Buffalo Architecture: A Guide,” and chaired the Main-Genesee Urban Design Task Group, which in the 1980s coordinated the construction of the major office buildings which surround Fountain Plaza.

Thomas F. Higgins, 88, a longtime officer with the Buffalo Police Department who went on to serve three terms as Erie County sheriff, died June 26.

A Korean War veteran, he became a Buffalo patrolman in 1956. He served in the elite Tactical Patrol Unit and was a founder of the Underwater Recovery Team. He left in 1978 to become undersheriff under newly elected Sheriff Kenneth J. Braun, and was elected sheriff in 1985 upon Braun’s retirement. During his 12-year tenure, he oversaw reconstruction of the Holding Center and beefed up air and marine patrols.

John Holer, 83, an immigrant to Canada who built Marineland into a major tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ont., died June 23.

Born in what is now Slovenia, he drew on his experience working with animal performers in a circus in Austria when he set up a sea lion show on an acre of land in 1961. Under his guidance, Marineland grew to 1,000 acres and attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually to experience its amusement rides and see a great variety of land and sea creatures.

James B. Kane Jr., 94, a Buffalo attorney who served with the State Supreme Court for more than 30 years, died Oct. 11.

Elected to Buffalo City Court in 1966 and Family Court in 1968, he won a seat on the state’s top court in 1975. Four years later, he became chief administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial District. Highly regarded for his fairness and sensitivity to community issues, he retired from that post in 1994, but continued to serve as a judge until 2000 and a judicial hearing officer until 2006.

Mack S. Luchey, 82, who owned and operated the area’s oldest record store, Doris Records, on Buffalo’s East Side, died Jan. 26.

He and his wife, Doris, who had been a clerk at the city’s first African-American record store, Audrey and Del’s, opened their own shop in 1962 and built a clientele by going to New York City to pick up the latest records and playing them on loudspeakers outside the store. Noted for its large stock of hard-to-find jazz and gospel records, the store attracted a long succession of famous customers, including Rick James, Ice Cube and Mary J. Blige.

Frank B. Mesiah, 89, longtime president of the Buffalo Branch NAACP who was in the forefront of the fight against racial discrimination for 50 years, died April 27.

Moved by what he heard in a speech by Malcolm X which he attended as an undercover Buffalo Police officer in 1962, he fought real estate red-lining in his Humboldt Parkway neighborhood, instituted the lawsuit that led to the desegregation of the city’s schools and pushed to open government jobs to minorities. His portrait appears on the Freedom Wall at Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street.

Norman S. Paolini Jr., 71, a researcher at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center who co-founded St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, an independent Catholic mission in a former church complex on Buffalo’s East Side, died April 30.

He formed a partnership to help the needy with Amy Betros, a Buffalo restaurant owner, after they met on one of his pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. In addition to helping run a mission that serves thousands of free meals and provides residences and other services for the homeless, he played guitar at Mass in his church, released two albums of his own songs, started a charismatic prayer group and was regularly heard on Catholic radio for 20 years.

Barbara Merriweather Sims, 94, the first African-American woman to graduate from the University at Buffalo Law School, first to serve as assistant district attorney in Erie County and first to serve as Buffalo City Court judge, died June 10.

The daughter of the founder of the Buffalo Criterion newspaper, she earned the highest score on the citywide teachers’ examination in 1952 and taught while attending law school. She was invited to become an assistant DA in 1964, serving for four years. Appointed to the City Court bench in 1977, she won election the following year and served until 1984. Returning to law practice, she acted as counsel to the local NAACP, representing clients in civil rights lawsuits as well as criminal matters.

Louise M. Slaughter, 88, an outspoken liberal congresswoman who represented a district that reached from Western to Central New York for more than 30 years, died March 16.

After earning college degrees in microbiology and public health, she moved to Monroe County in the 1950s, served in the Monroe County Legislature and won two terms in the state Assembly. She was elected to Congress in 1986; her district at times stretched as far west as Erie and Niagara counties. A strong advocate for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and other local projects, she became one of the leading voices for aviation safety after the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009.

Rev. Elton O. Smith Jr., 89, longtime dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral and one of the area’s most influential religious leaders, died Nov. 17.

Active in the ecumenical movement in Kansas City, Mo., he was elected dean of the Buffalo cathedral in 1968 and served until 1994. He was a founder and first president of Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries, which included religious leaders of many faiths. He also revitalized the congregation at the cathedral, upgrading the music, the liturgy and the quality of the sermons and making it a meeting place for community, social services and support groups.

Juan R. Texidor, 92, a leader in Buffalo’s Puerto Rican community and radio talk show host, died Feb. 7.

Arriving here from Puerto Rico in 1951, he was a founding member of two West Side institutions, the Pucho Olivencia Center and Hispanics United of Buffalo, but was best known as the host of the Spanish language “Ecos Boricanos,” a call-in radio program on WJJL that brought in community leaders and covered the major issues of the day from the late 1950s to the 1980s. A proponent of bilingual education, he also taught hundreds of Hispanic children to read English.

Ivano Toscani, 68, who made the Anchor Bar a mecca for Buffalo chicken wing lovers worldwide, died Nov. 20.

An Italian immigrant, he began working at the restaurant known as the birthplace of the spicy appetizer in 1974. Following the deaths in the 1980s and 1990s of the Bellissimo family members who operated the business, he became general manager and co-owner. He appeared on nationally televised cooking shows and established a franchise operation during the past decade, taking the Anchor Bar and its specialty to numerous locations locally and in other cities.

Douglas Turner, 86, a journalist for more than 60 years and longtime Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, died Nov. 4.

He joined the Buffalo Courier-Express in 1957, advancing to Albany bureau chief, financial editor, city editor and executive editor, leading hard-hitting competition with The News in the 1970s. He was Washington bureau chief when the paper closed in 1982. A major figure among journalists in the nation’s capital and an influential, no-nonsense commentator, he went on to be Washington bureau chief for The News for 25 years, then continued as a columnist.

Carel Jan van Oss, 94, an eminent microbiologist who was Dutch consul in Western New York and recognized later in life as a World War II hero, died Feb. 22.

Earning a doctorate with honors from the Sorbonne in Paris after the war, he came to Buffalo in 1968 to head the UB microbiology lab and was a world renowned expert in the repulsion of molecules from each other in gases and liquids. In 1983, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands awarded him a knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his activities as a forger working with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, providing false documents that saved the lives of hundreds of Jews.

Daniel B. Walsh, 83, the first upstate Democrat in modern times to hold the Assembly’s second spot and the first from Western New York, died Dec. 21.

His tenure in the Assembly and later as president of the Business Council of New York State ranked the Olean native as one of the most influential Western New Yorkers to ever arrive in Albany. Later, he parlayed his Democratic connections throughout Albany as leader of the Business Council, the state’s powerful lobby for business and industry.

Richard Wesp, 64, an actor who was a dominant figure in Buffalo theater in 1980s and 1990s, died Feb. 1.

At the height of his career, he was one of the area’s most highly regarded performers, adept at both comic and serious roles. A favorite of audiences and critics alike, he was praised for his versatility and stage presence in starring roles ranging from “Richard II” at Shakespeare in Delaware Park to “The Gigli Concert” for the Irish Classical Theatre.

Kate Butler Wickham, 97, philanthropist and granddaughter of the founder of The Buffalo News, died Nov. 17.

The last member of the Butler family to be involved in management of the newspaper, she married Navy officer Edward H. Righter, who became publisher of The News after the death of her father in 1956. Active in civic, cultural and health-related organizations, she was chair of the Buffalo State College Council from 1959 to 1980, where she was instrumental in many projects, including the college’s Edward H. Butler Library. She also chaired the Edward H. Butler Foundation, which has supported numerous educational and charitable causes for more than 40 years.

Also of note:

Henry Bawnik, 92, Amherst dry cleaning shop owner who came here after surviving World War II death camps and inferno at sea, died Aug. 20.

Jacques “Jack” Berlin, 81, State Health Department research scientist known as “the bug doc,” died March 16.

Mike Bos, 71, renowned builder of chassis for drag racers, died June 4.

Anthony J. Colucci Jr., 84, attorney who helped save the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, died Aug. 15.

M. Jane Dickman, 94, first woman director of the Buffalo branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, died Aug. 1.

Will Elliott, 78, outdoor columnist for The Buffalo News for 30 years, died July 1.

Dale C. English, 78, Albany bureau chief for the Buffalo Courier-Express, died Nov. 17.

Walter J. Floss Jr., 95, state senator, champion of small business, died Dec. 8.

Irene K. Gardner, 95, led campaign for pedestrian bridge to river in Riverside, died March 7.

Vincent M. Gaughan Jr. 65, developed golf courses with Jack Nicklaus, died Jan. 11.

Brian R. Gillis, 71, Niagara Falls native who was a world-renowned magician, died July 2.

Bernice Golden, 73, professional psychic who did thousands of readings and media appearances, died Oct. 8.

Sarah Attea Griffin, 41, barrel racing champion, died Nov. 4.

Paul Gromosiak, 75, historian and tireless promoter of Niagara Falls, died Aug. 4.

Patrick H. Hoak, 68, restaurateur and former Hamburg town supervisor, died Oct. 5.

George Hochfield, 91, UB English professor involved in a landmark academic freedom case, died Jan. 17.

John F. Humann, 72, leading local criminal defense attorney, died Nov. 5.

Jane F. Jacobs, 99, real estate broker who founded the local chapter of UNICEF, died Feb. 11.

Harold P. Kopp, 77, TV repair shop owner who invented the first electronic surge protector, died Aug. 16.

Anthony B. Krupski Jr., 76, founder and leader of the Krew Brothers polka band, died July 1.

Dr. Thomas Z. Lajos, 86, helped pioneer open heart surgery at Buffalo General Hospital, died March 19.

Genia Las, 92, acclaimed opera singer who performed in Europe and with Maria Callas, died May 10.

Richard Lipsitz Sr., 97, prominent Buffalo attorney, died May 18.

Patrick G. Lucey, 85, longtime Amherst highway superintendent, died Oct. 24.

Chief Thomas J. Moran, 49, headed Buffalo Police South District, died March 1.

Hans J. Mobius, 84, businessman, horseman and civic gadfly, died June 22.

Rick Naylon, 67, proprietor of Jimmy Mac’s, Elmwood Avenue business leader, died July 15.

Reginald B. Newman II, 80, chairman of NOCO Energy Corp, died April 7.

Right Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski, 81, bishop emeritus in Polish National Catholic Church, died Jan. 19.

Paul F. Rosa, 75, owner of Rosa’s Home Stores, died Oct. 30.

Royal Roussel, 79, revived UB’s Department of Media Study, died Feb. 26.

Reynold Scott Jr., 74, UB faculty member and jazz saxophonist who toured with Sun Ra’s Arkestra, died June 23.

Joseph J. Sedita, 99, State Supreme Court justice and brother of former Buffalo mayor, died Jan. 13.

Edward A. Starosielec, 71, Calspan vice president and leader in breakthrough research projects, died Jan. 11.

Paula J. Stockman, 64, chairwoman of the Cattaraugus County Legislature, died Jan. 13.

Robert C. Stoddart, 80, first state trooper to nab a speeder from the air, died March 8.

Rev. Otis C. Tillman, 98, pastor of Cold Spring Bible Chapel for more than 50 years, died Jan. 24.

Ronald H. Tills, 82, former Assemblyman and acting State Supreme Court Judge, died Feb. 4.

Glenn D. Voelker, 69, longtime owner of Voelker’s Bowling center, died July 7.

Donald E. Will, 91, president of Will Poultry, died Nov. 8.

Richard “Woj” Wojciechowski, 90, coach who built athletic program at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster, died March 2.

Jozef Zawitkowski, 96, last surviving soldier from famous underground Polish Home Army unit, died Sept. 14.

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