Ralph C. Wilson Jr. didn’t just bring football to Buffalo, he added to its humanity. A recent News story outlining the numerous generous donations he made behind the scenes – from food and nutrition to cancer research to hospice services – makes that wonderful distinction.
Wilson, the Buffalo Bills’ only owner, cared about his adopted community in ways that are being felt after his death on Tuesday at age 95. He was a humanitarian, and that shows up in his behind-the-scenes efforts to improve this community on just about every level.
Those efforts date as far back as 1952, when he and his father started the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation. This dedication went on for decades, up to and including the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation, founded in 1999 with his wife, Mary.
Wilson turned a $25,000 investment in the Buffalo Bills into a legacy for this community. But he also took great pride in giving back.
As Candace Johnson, deputy director at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said, Wilson gave more than $11 million to medical institutions. Roswell Park, she indicated, was the appreciative beneficiary of $2 million to fund innovative research projects as seed money. That was parlayed into another $10 million to $12 million for those projects.
The Wilsons were members of the “Circle of 10” – 10 individuals and families who each donated $1 million toward the $40 million cost of Roswell Park’s new Clinical Sciences Center.
Wilson’s generosity seemed to know no bounds. It stretched from his donations to the Hospice Foundation of Western New York to the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County to the Food Bank. His funding efforts went a long way toward feeding, clothing and comforting those in need. No accolades required.
Wilson was born in Columbus, Ohio, raised in Detroit and maintained a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. But there are likely many people who are just learning of Wilson’s devotion to a community he serendipitously stumbled upon in a calculated way to help build a franchise.
Even his critics, including those anxious to know whether the beloved team Wilson built will remain in Western New York, have to draw breath at the magnitude of this man’s generosity.
Indeed, strong communities are made of people who give back, in whatever manner they can afford. Wilson was able to afford a lot and he gave generously.
Through his extensive philanthropy, Wilson has defined what it is to live a meaningful life. Western New York will always be grateful to its adopted patron.