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Dec. 16, 1935 – May 17, 2014

Franklin George Downing Sr., of Orchard Park, the founder and chairman of the board of Towne Automotive Group, one of the Buffalo area’s largest car dealers, died Saturday in Mercy Hospital after a short illness. He was 78.

Mr. Downing, after working several years in sales for local dealerships, opened a Lincoln-Mercury showroom in 1969 in Orchard Park and expanded to multiple showrooms in Orchard Park and Clarence. Towne currently carries 10 makes of vehicles and employs more than 350 people.

He is credited with congregating auto dealers and other automotive businesses along Southwestern Boulevard between Milestrip and Breem roads in Orchard Park.

“He saw an auto mall like that in the Midwest, and he had the vision to try to develop one here,” former Orchard Park Town Assessor A. Terrance Campbell said in 1997. “It was just abandoned farmland, going to scrub, before he developed it.”

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Downing attended St. Mark’s School and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.

He was a graduate of Syracuse University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and was a member of Alpha Chi Rho fraternity. He received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Canisius College.

Mr. Downing received numerous other honors and awards, including the Humanitarian Award from People Inc., the Caritas Leadership Award from Catholic Charities, the YMCA’s Toast of Buffalo Award, the Lions Club Distinguished Service Award and the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from Trocaire College.

He was a past president of the Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association and the Mercy Hospital Foundation board. He also was a member of the Canisius College board of trustees, the Sisters of Mercy Advisory Board and the St. Peter Claver Youth Board.

He was gift chairman for the American Cancer Society, a chairman and regional chairman for Catholic Charities, and chairman of the Canisius College Annual Fund.

His gifts resulted in the establishment of the F.G. Downing Family House at Canisius College and the Downing Respite House at People Inc. He also supported the construction of the new residence for the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.

He enjoyed golf, swimming, bicycling, tennis, horse racing and regional menu items at restaurants. He was a member of Orchard Park Country Club, the Crag Burn Golf Club, the Country Club of Buffalo and the Cherry Hill Club. He maintained a summer home in Bay Beach, Ont., and a winter home on Palm Island, Fla.

His wife of 50 years, Dolores M. “Punkin” Connelly Downing, died in 2011.

Survivors include two daughters, Molly D. Regan and Gretchen M. Cappiello; four sons, Dr. Stephen W., Franklin G. Jr., David M. and Matthew M.; three brothers, John, Robert and Thomas; and 20 grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, 50 Franklin St.