Bob Wilmers: A Pillar of the Business Community

Robert Wilmers with Bob RichThere’s not much I can say about Bob Wilmers that has not already been said.  He was unassuming with a sharp wit, extreme intelligence and a passion for our community.

We remember the vital role Bob played 25 years ago in helping create what is now the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.  A merger of the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation brought together the power of economic planning and research with the civic engagement of business leaders.  From the revitalization to the GBDF, to the formation of the Partnership, Bob’s leadership very directly assured that the Partnership would lead private sector economic development efforts and would do so with sound data and well thought out plans. He encouraged, and maybe even demanded, collaboration between private sector leadership and our government partners.  From the founding of the Partnership 25 years ago, and each and every day until his passing, Bob was committed, involved and supportive of our work.  In retrospect, the Partnership’s core values of Integrity, Collaboration, Courage, and Passion for this community reflect who Bob was and how he expected us to conduct ourselves.

Bob was, without question, the dean of the business community.  He rallied the troops and was the first person who would write a check to support whatever effort was on the table. He was a very early supporter of Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of regional chambers, which finally made Albany take notice of all the cities on the thruway west of the state capitol.  His unofficial title was “the convener,” which encapsulates him perfectly.

I called him once to ask him for recommendation for a bank executive, preferably a woman, who might be a good fit to serve on the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.  He challenged me, “Why don’t you do it?  I think you’d be great.”   He went on to tell me why it would be good for me, and for the community, if I was willing to throw my name in for consideration.  He rarely “asked” others for anything, so when he did, it was very difficult to say no. I did submit my qualifications and was appointed to serve by Governor Cuomo. 

In Bob’s absence, we will all need to aspire to his brand of direct, honest and fearless leadership.  We are grateful for him and his legacy will carry us on. My predecessor, Dr. Andrew Rudnick (who knew Bob for nearly 50 years) and I were talking last week.   Andrew said it better than I can – “He came to Buffalo 35 years ago committed to grow a bank and to build a community.  No one – absolutely no one – can argue that he didn’t completely succeed in both.  And he did so with extraordinary class and integrity.”  Amen.

*Video courtesy of M&T Bank

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