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Oct. 19, 1928 – June 14, 2014

Charles E. Rath, former president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross of Western New York, died June 14 in Deland, Fla., after a short illness. He was 85.

Upon his retirement in 1990, Buffalo News Medical Reporter Henry E. Davis characterized him as “tough and controversial,” and noted that “as president the last 17 years, he was the company.”

Mr. Rath was credited with starting Community Blue, the health maintenance organization, and for spearheading the $14 million conversion of the former flagship Sears store at 1905 Main St. into a contemporary headquarters that upgraded the Canisius College neighborhood. The building now is Canisius’ Science Hall.

Born in Buffalo, he served in the Army after graduating from South Park High School.

Returning from service, he studied English at Canisius College and worked in the Sears store, selling vacuum cleaners in the basement.

After he graduated in 1953, he hoped to have a career in journalism but joined Blue Cross instead in a sales position in 1954.

He remained with Blue Cross for his entire career. He was elected corporate secretary in 1969 and became president and CEO in 1973.

The final years of his tenure were marked by bitter legal disputes with sister company Blue Shield, dubbed the “Blue Wars.” The two companies merged in the early 1990s.

Formerly of Lancaster, Mr. Rath wintered in Florida and became a permanent resident there after the death of his wife of 42 years, Suzanne McMullen Rath, in 1994.

He married Eva Lynn Ryan in 2002.

In retirement, he became a member of the Senior Scriveners writing group of Deland and was published in a collection of short stories.

In addition to his wife, survivors include six sons, Charles E. Jr., John J., Michael J., Peter D., Paul R. and Daniel J.; a daughter, Barbara A. Boughton; two brothers, Thomas and Joseph; and 13 grandchildren.

A memorial service in Florida will be private.