April 13, 1927 – April 19, 2020
John J. “Jack” Gruber, an attorney specializing in Admiralty Law who served for 24 years as Tonawanda town justice, died April 19 in Kenmore Mercy Hospital after a short illness. He was 93.
Born in Buffalo, one of four children and the only boy, he was a 1944 graduate of Annunciation High School and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He attained the rank of sergeant and was part of the occupational forces in Germany when the war ended.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buffalo in 1949 and served as a patrolman in the Buffalo Police Department while attending UB Law School. He was president of the Student Bar Association when he graduated in 1952.
Mr. Gruber first practiced with his uncle, criminal defense lawyer Thomas McKenna, then joined the firm of Coffey, Heffernan and Harrison, which represented shipping companies. Clients included the American Steamship Co., which he represented in state and federal courtrooms throughout the Great Lakes.
Certified as a Proctor in Admiralty, he was the last practicing proctor in Western New York when he retired in 2003. As Great Lakes shipping declined here in the 1980s, his focus turned to general practice.
He was first elected Tonawanda town justice in 1983 and served for six four-year terms. A Republican, he was frequently cross-endorsed by Democrats.
In 2001, he was appointed acting judge for Buffalo City Court, presiding primarily over civil cases while serving concurrently as town justice.
When he stepped down from the town bench in 2007, his son, J. Mark Gruber, was elected to fill his seat.
He was a past president of the St. Thomas More Guild, an organization of Catholic lawyers.
Also a past president of the Propeller Club of the Port of Buffalo, a group of maritime professionals, he served as regional vice president of the Propeller Club of the United States.
Justice Gruber was honored as Magistrate of the Year in 2004 by the Erie County Magistrates Association. The Tonawanda Conservative Party gave him its Outstanding Public Servant Award in 2008.
He took part as a judge in the UB Law School’s annual Moot Court Competition.
He was civilian chairman of the Western New York Armed Forces Week Committee for 20 years and received the Louis R. Palma Veterans Tribute Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park in 2018 for his service to the veterans community.
He was a past commander of George F. Lamm Post 622, American Legion, and a past judge advocate for the Erie County American Legion.
A member of the Judges and Police Conference of Erie County, for many years he was counsel to the Captains and Lieutenants Association of Erie County.
He served on the boards of trustees of Mount St. Mary’s Academy and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.
A past president of the St. Paul’s Home School Association in Kenmore, he was a delegate to the Buffalo Federation of Home School Associations and the New York State Federation of Catholic School Parents.
He was a lecturer in Town of Tonawanda Youth Court and a member of the Ken-Ton Task Force on Family Violence.
A devout Catholic who attended Mass daily, he was a past president of the Holy Name Society at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in the Town of Tonawanda and a member of Our Lady of Hope Council 3076, Knights of Columbus.
Proud of his Irish heritage, he also was a member of the Tonawanda Chapter of the ancient Order of Hibernians.
He was a recipient of the Volunteer Spiritual Care Award for his work for more than 20 years in the Spiritual Care Office at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He regularly offered Communion to patients there.
One year, his son Mark said, he was long overdue to return from Roswell Park for an Easter brunch with his family. When he finally arrived, his son said, he explained, “Nobody else showed up at the Spiritual Care Office to distribute Communion, so I did the whole hospital.”
Survivors include his wife of 68 years, the former Margaret A. “Peg” Berns, a registered nurse; three daughters, Marcia Gruber-Page, Margaret Mary Davis and Madonna Fick; four other sons, Martin, Michael, Edward and Dr. Thomas; a sister, Mary Martin; 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A private Mass of Christian Burial will be streamed on Facebook Live at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 23, from St. John the Baptist Church, Town of Tonawanda.