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Oct. 7, 1925 – Jan. 16, 2014

John T. Manyon, who helped turn Blue Shield from a small local health insurer into a major force in health care, died Thursday after a short illness. He was 88.

Mr. Manyon was born into a Greek immigrant family in Endicott, and spoke only Greek when he started school. He learned to speak English and went on to graduate from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a degree in mathematics.

He began his career with Security Mutual Life Insurance of New York in Binghamton. In the early 1960s, he moved his family to Buffalo to accept a position as an investment officer at Liberty National Bank & Trust Company. There he oversaw the reserve funds of Blue Shield of WNY and sat on the insurer’s board of directors. In the late 1960s, he became board president.

He led the board through a conflict in the 1970s with Blue Cross of WNY, which had a contract to market Blue Shield’s insurance programs. The dispute led to resignations from the board by a number of physicians, who were replaced by community leaders and physicians who agreed with Blue Shield’s position to hold down reimbursement costs and premiums.

Mr. Manyon recognized the importance of healthy lifestyles, and under his leadership Blue Shield created an annual run and supported many other health initiatives.

During his tenure, he expanded the plan’s customer base, contracted to process Medicare Part B claims and formed a team to set up a claims processing facility in Binghamton, adding over a billion dollars a year in volume to the company’s business.

Mr. Manyon also was involved in area cultural organizations. In 1986, he and his longtime companion, Helene Petrakis, were asked by the president of Chautauqua Institution to be part of a group visiting what was then the Soviet Union. This interchange was the prelude to the unprecedented visit in 1987 by 300 Soviets who came to Chautauqua for a week.

In 1986, the independent Blue Shield Plan of Northeastern New York was merged into the Western New York plan in a deal Mr. Manyon crafted.

Mr. Manyon retired in 1992. Shortly afterward, Blue Shield merged with Blue Cross of WNY. Mr. Manyon is survived by two daughters, Andrea and Ellen; three sons, Theodore, John Peter and Samuel; and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, 146 West Utica St. An additional service will be held in Endicott, where Mr. Manyon will be buried.