May 15, 1926 — July 30, 2019
In 1965, Frank R. Papa took over the family business, National Fire Adjustment Co. Inc., established by his father in 1922.
In his years at the helm, Mr. Papa innovated, expanded and improved the Amherst-based company to make it the largest public adjusting firm in the United States and Canada.
"He certainly was a visionary, and he has often been called a legend in the public adjusting field," said his son Ronald. "Anybody I would talk to, when they heard I was his son, would have a story about what he did to help them throughout the years."
His family also described Mr. Papa as a "hopeful romantic," who was married for 68 years to his teenage sweetheart, who was the girl across the street.
Papa, chairman of the board of National Fire Adjustment Co. Inc., died July 30, 2019, in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. He was 93.
He was born in Buffalo, the second of four children and the only son of Bernard J. and Catherine Giallella Papa.
He graduated from Canisius High School in 1944 and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, training to be a gunner at Griffiss Air Force Base and in Colorado. His son said Mr. Papa was preparing to go overseas when the war ended.
In 1947, Mr. Papa began work in the family business, which represents its clients in claims resulting from fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters.
Mr. Papa and Theresa Oddo met in their early teens when the Papa family moved to Richmond Avenue, across the street from the Oddos. He showed his devotion to his young girlfriend by teaching her how to drive. "My dad always said that he would pray for patience," said Ronald Papa.
They were married on June 23, 1951, in St. Joseph New Cathedral in Buffalo.
Mr. Papa graduated from the University of Buffalo Law School in 1952. He often joked about having an excuse to leave law school classes when there was a major fire. After graduation, he was admitted to the bar in New York and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Papa was the first person in the United States to computerize insurance claims, in 1972, his son said. His office was working nonstop to calculate insurance claims after Hurricane Agnes hit the Southern Tier, his son said. "And he said, 'There has to be a way to automate this.' So he hired a person with a doctorate in computer science, and he wrote software specifically for our business.
"The insurance industry followed, but he was the first one to have it," Ronald Papa said.
Always an innovator, Mr. Papa had a car phone in 1955 so he could speak to people from fire scenes, and in the late 1960s, he equipped his employees with two-way radios.
Until his final days, Mr. Papa was on his cellphone and reading hundreds of emails, his son said.
Mr. Papa became president of the National Fire Adjustment Co. Inc. in 1965. In 1996, his son Ronald was named president and CEO and Mr. Papa became chairman of the company, a title he held until his death. A fourth generation of family members now works at the firm, which employs more than 80 people.
Mr. Papa was a licensed public adjuster in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ontario, Canada. In 1996, he and his son Ronald won a lawsuit to enable them to take the test to become the first nonresident licensed public adjusters in Florida.
In 1967, Mr. Papa was a charter member of the Fire Bell Club of Buffalo, which supports the Buffalo Fire Department. He also belonged to the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters and the Erie County Bar Association.
He was a supporter of SABAH and the American Red Cross. The Papas were longtime members of the United Way’s deTocqueville Society.
Mr. Papa was an avid tennis player and fan of the Buffalo Bills and New York Yankees. He was a fixture at Western New York charity car shows with his award-winning red 1955 Cadillac convertible with the "Big Redd" license plate. He was a former member of the Western New York Snowmobile Club.
In 1991, the Papas began spending winters in Singer Island, Fla.
His son Gary, who was a sportscaster on WGR and sports director at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, died on June 19, 2009.
Besides his wife and son Ronald, Mr. Papa is survived by two other sons, Jeffrey and Greg; a daughter, Judith; two sisters, Theresa Short and Patricia Geraci; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:15 a.m. Monday in St. Gregory the Great Church, 200 St. Gregory Court, Amherst.