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Donald H. Cloudsley, longtime director of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library who was known as the “Library Lion” for his passionate defense of the system’s interests, died Thursday in Elderwood HealthCare at Oakwood, Amherst. He was 87.

Mr. Cloudsley served as director for 12 years, part of a 46-year library system career that began in 1949 as a junior librarian at the Dudley Branch on South Park Avenue in Buffalo. He retired in 1995.

He was named director in 1983 and his tenure proved eventful, overseeing the transition of the library to digital operations in collections and administration, including implementation of the first online catalog.

He also launched a lawsuit against Erie County that led to a court decision giving the library control over its spending, and he pressed for the County Legislature’s passage of the Library Protection Act, a dedicated tax to support library services.

Mr. Cloudsley was named The Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1992 – the same year the library recovered the first half of the manuscript of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which was believed lost until it turned up in a California attic. Both halves are now displayed at the Central Library in downtown Buffalo. He spearheaded negotiations that led to the delivery of the famous manuscript to Buffalo.

Throughout his tenure as director, Mr. Cloudsley was known for fighting on behalf of the library, particularly when its budget and services were threatened. He was asked about his combative style in a 1995 interview.

“I wouldn’t say I look forward to a battle,” he said. “But I’ve never minded them. Some people don’t like to do it, but it’s never bothered me to wade right in there and slug it out with somebody.”

Mr. Cloudsley graduated from Bennett High School and served in its mentoring program from 1978 until his death. He entered Bethany College in 1942, enlisted in the Navy after his freshman year and trained at Great Lakes Naval Station. He was assigned to the Pacific Theater, serving in the Philippines and in post-surrender Japan, at Yokohama. In 1946, he returned to Bethany College, where he made several lifelong friends. Mr. Cloudsley graduated from Bethany in 1948 and completed his master’s degree in library science at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1949. He returned to Buffalo to begin his library career.

Mr. Cloudsley was an avid art collector, especially of the American abstract expressionists, and a jazz aficionado, especially of Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington.

In 1995, he established the Donald H. Cloudsley Foundation, which supports arts and library initiatives and social and educational programs in Erie County.

Mr. Cloudsley was a longtime member of the Kenmore Rotary Club, Bethany alumni and Beta Theta Pi, and was an active member of Central Park United Methodist Church.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in Central Park United Methodist Church, 216 Beard Ave.