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Aug. 11, 1936 – May 7, 2014

Ralph J. Kawalerowski, a retired administrator of the employee assistance program for the U.S. Postal Service and a stalwart of the Western New York alcohol recovery community, died Wednesday in Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He was 77.

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Kawalerowski was a graduate of St. John Kanty Prep in Erie, Pa.

He worked for Barcalo Manufacturing Co., manufacturers of the Barcalounger, before joining the U.S. Navy in 1955, mainly sailing the Mediterranean until 1960.

After his marriage to Mary R. Snyder in 1961, he joined the Buffalo branch of the Postal Service, first as a mail handler and, starting in 1978, as one of two administrators of the post office’s Program for Alcoholic Recovery – later known as the Employee Assistance Program. He retired in 1992.

With more than 49 years of continuous sobriety, he was a humble and highly effective mentor and friend to scores of alcoholics from all walks of life.

He attended 12-step meetings into the last week of his life, greeting others with the words, “Did you drink today?” and telling anyone who asked about the efficacy of the program: “It works if you work it.”

In retirement, Mr. Kawalerowski attended annual recovery celebrations in Akron, Ohio, and went to a number of international recovery conventions.

“I was glad he had something that interested him so much,” his wife said. “Recovery was his interest, and he threw himself into it. In fact, one time a friend went to a meeting in California and when he said he was from Buffalo, he was asked, ‘Do you know Ralph?’ ”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kawalerowski is survived by four daughters, Mary Ellen Kather, Ann Morey, Linda and Amy; a son, Joseph J.; a sister, Del Zey; and seven grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday in Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 91 Dakota Ave.