Aug. 29, 1926 – Aug. 3, 2019
Richard Sterling, a Lackawanna photographer whose lens captured more than half a century of local history and thousands of personalities, including President Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail, died Saturday in Buffalo General Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 92.
His subjects included Catholic bishops, New York governors and entertainers such as Andy Williams and Tony Bennett.
In 1980, he had to squeeze through Secret Service agents and political staffers to snap photos of Reagan on a morning visit to the former Armondo’s restaurant on Lakeshore Road in Hamburg.
“None of the pictures of him were really good,” he told Buffalo News reporter Jay Tokasz when he closed his studio on Ridge Road in 2012. Nevertheless, Armondo’s displayed the Reagan photos for years.
Mr. Sterling also chronicled countless people and events in and around his hometown – athletic contests, school functions, church gatherings and the annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“You name it, he was photographing it,” his wife, Loretta, told Tokasz.
Born in Lackawanna, the second of three children, he was raised in South Buffalo. He attended School 67 and was a 1944 graduate of South Park High School. He studied business briefly at the University of Buffalo, then was drafted into the Navy in the final months of World War II. He worked as a Navy postman for 18 months.
Upon his discharge, he attended a 20-week portrait and commercial photography program at the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Conn.
“I was taught by the best in the country,” he told Tokasz. “They taught us lighting, and that’s what photography really is.”
Mr. Sterling was hired in the late 1940s as a staff photographer by what was then the State Department of Public Works. Among the projects he documented were the construction of the Thruway and the Skyway.
He set up his studio and darkroom on Ridge Road in Lackawanna in 1953.
He was the preferred photographer for Our Lady of Victory Homes and the City of Lackawanna. On occasion, the Lackawanna Police Department would call him to photograph crime scenes.
“Catholics often marked their children’s First Communions with a trip to (Mr.) Sterling’s studio for a portrait,” Tokasz wrote. “(Mr.) Sterling estimates he photographed “quite a few thousand” weddings in Western New York – including the nuptials of Margaret McMahon and James Griffin, who later became mayor of Buffalo.
He also served as a mentor to other photographers, including his daughter Karen, who works as a freelance photographer and videographer in New York City.
He retired after closing his studio. His vast collection of photographic negatives is stored in the Lackawanna Public Library.
He met the former Loretta Aloisio at a church dance and they became friends during rides together to play with a tennis club in Delaware Park. They were married in 1964.
A longtime resident of Blasdell, he was a parishioner at Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church and was active for many years in the Cursillo movement.
An athlete and gymnast, he was a former member of the Buffalo Turn Verein gymnastic society, swam regularly and played volleyball into his mid-70s. He also enjoyed playing pinochle.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Christopher and Gregory; two daughters, Laura Giallella and Karen Sterling; a sister, Jean Sterling-Colvin; and three grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, in Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, 3688 South Park Ave., Blasdell.