Minot H. Ortolani, a former banker who changed careers and served a long tenure as executive director of the Buffalo Zoo, died Friday in his Williamsville home. He was 83.
During Mr. Ortolani’s 16-year tenure as head of the zoo, the 22-acre facility in the northeast corner of Delaware Park underwent more than $10 million in new construction, including the addition of a lowland gorilla habitat and outdoor lion and tiger exhibit, as well as the expansion of the Asian elephant yard and the construction of the Parkside gate entrance to the zoo.
“The biggest thing I was able to do was develop a strong staff, establish good rapport in political circles and give the zoo strong visibility,” Mr. Ortolani told the Buffalo News in 1994, before retiring from his post.
Born in Buffalo on Aug. 7, 1929, he was a 1947 graduate of Canisius High School and later earned a graduate degree in history from Canisius College in 1951 and a master’s degree in finance from Rutgers’ Stonier Graduate School of Banking in 1962.
A Navy veteran, Mr. Ortolani graduated from the Navy’s Officers Candidate School in Newport, R.I., in 1953 and served stateside on active duty with the Navy until 1956. He was an active duty officer with the Navy Reserve from 1951 to 1977, and retired from the Navy Reserve in 1989 after 38 years of service, having achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.
In his civilian life, Mr. Ortolani was employed with M&T Bank from 1957 to 1979, having started with the bank as an executive trainee and eventually moving up to the position of vice president of the bank’s metropolitan division.
In 1986, he explained to The Buffalo News how a banker ended up running a zoo:
“At one time, I was on the board of directors at the zoo. When the board was looking at a change in administration, they asked me to assume the role. They felt that the zoo was more than a collection of animals. They thought it was a business, if people would just understand that. We just have a different inventory,” Mr. Ortolani explained.
As a member of the zoo’s board of directors in 1979, Mr. Ortolani was the chairman of the search committee for a new a director until he stepped down, citing personal reasons for his resignation.
Shortly thereafter, in July of that year, he was appointed by the board to serve as interim director of the zoo and was appointed permanently to the post in January 1980.
Early on in his tenure, Mr. Ortolani took on the Erie County Legislature as he lobbied for more funding for the zoo, soliciting support from the community and even closing the zoo and sidelining 32 employees for a couple of days in August 1981 in response to cuts in city and county funding.
Long before stepping into his role as director of the zoo, Mr. Ortolani was involved in numerous civic endeavors. In the early 1970s, he was chairman of a Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce committee dedicated to beautifying Buffalo city streets.
He received numerous awards for his community service, including the Daemen College President’s Award, the Canisius College Distinguished Alumnus Award.
He was a member on the Niagara Frontier State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission, the board of directors of the Aquarium of Niagara, the Amherst Museum board of trustees and the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Town of Amherst.
Mr. Ortolani was chairman of corporate gifts with Catholic Charities, president and director of the Buffalo Psychiatric Clinic and chairman of Canisius High School’s Gambit II.
He and his late wife of 49 years, the former Anne Sweeney, who died in 2006, traveled extensively all over the world. Mr. Ortolani also traveled with other zoological professionals and members of the Buffalo Zoo.
He took part in three separate safaris and made trips to East Africa, South Africa, Borneo, the British Isles, the Mediterranean and various parts of Asia and Europe. He also sailed the Amazon River in South America.
He is survived by three sons, Timothy, John and Terrence; and a brother, Joseph.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Christ the King Catholic Church, 30 Lamarck Drive, Snyder.