April 30, 1931 – April 26, 2020
John F. Downing Sr.'s public service in the late-1960s and early '70s included involvement in several major civic projects: the completion of Erie Basin Marina, the renovation and raising of the roof of Buffalo Memorial Auditorium and the construction of the light rail metro service.
They occurred when the engineer was the city's youngest-ever public works commissioner and deputy mayor under Mayor Stanley Makowski.
Downing, who had a passion for Buffalo, died on April 26 at Kingsway Manor Assisted Living in Schenectady. He was 88.
A native of Buffalo, Mr. Downing graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. After a brief stint in the Army, he earned a degree in civil engineering at Manhattan College.
Mr. Downing began his engineering career at Interstate General Contractors in Chicago, followed by Uhl, Hall & Rich in Boston and Siegfried Construction Co. in Buffalo.
In 1966, he went to work for the City of Buffalo, and was appointed public works commissioner the following year at age 35. He became deputy mayor in 1973. Buffalo Memorial Auditorium's roof was raised in 1971, and Erie Basin Marina was completed in 1974.
"Those types of civic projects were what he was most proud of, but he had the same focus and discipline with any project around the house," said Daniel Downing, one of three children. "He took every one of them like an engineer would do – very seriously, and very disciplined on making sure everything was just right."
In 1975, Mr. Downing went to Albany to become assistant and then executive deputy commissioner of transportation for New York State. He returned to Buffalo in 1980 to become executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and was involved in the construction of the light rail transit system. He also was coordinator of hydro policy for the New York State Power Authority.
Mr. Downing completed his career in the private sector working as a consulting engineer for Hayden Wegman and Erdman Anthony, before retiring in 2005. He and his wife of 64 years, the former Sarah Doran, spent his later years in Port Charlotte, Fla., and Buffalo.
Mr. Downing had a passion for golf and was a lifelong member of the Cherry Hill Golf Club in Ontario, where he served a term as president. He was proud of the holes-in-one he achieved on the 11th and 16th holes.
He was preceded in death by a son, Dr. John F. Downing.
Other survivors include a daughter, Constance D. Millard; son Michael A.; a brother, Thomas J.; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at St. Mark Church, 401 Woodward Ave., later this summer.
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