Sept. 28, 1930 – Aug. 19, 2017
Richard E. Garman stayed true to his roots.
“He always kept his feet on the ground,” his daughter Michelle Parrish said. “He always was that farm boy. And he was very generous about giving back, as was my mother. He cared very much for Buffalo and cared very much for the region. This is where he became successful.”
A construction company executive, civic leader and philanthropist, he died Aug. 19 in his East Aurora home. He was 86.
The public is able to swim in Lake Erie at Woodlawn Beach State Park thanks in part to Mr. Garman. He sold the property to New York State.
When one of his companies, Buffalo Crushed Stone, bought portions of the Bethlehem Steel property in Lackawanna and Hamburg in the 1980s, Mr. Garman insisted that the deal include Woodlawn Beach, which the steelmaker wanted to sell to private developers.
He told an interviewer years later that he “felt that the beach should be a public place that the 1 million people who live in Erie County could enjoy for decades to come, instead of a private reserve of a few hundred people.”
He stood by that vision in the 1990s, over opposition from his advisers, during the long process of selling the beach property to the state.
Mr. Garman also made large financial contributions to SUNY Buffalo State, Bucknell University and the Buffalo Zoo, and other organizations.
Born in Richfield, Pa., a rural community about 45 miles north of Harrisburg, he enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school.
He took part in three major campaigns in the Korean War – the Inchon invasion, the recapture of Seoul and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He suffered a neck wound from shrapnel and frostbitten feet at Chosin Reservoir.
Attaining the rank of sergeant, he was stationed in Philadelphia when he became reacquainted with a high school classmate, Patricia Hetherington, a nurse in Philadelphia whose mother saw a newspaper article about him and suggested that she look him up. They were married in 1952 and he enrolled in engineering at Bucknell University that fall.
“He didn’t take the finals for the first semester,” his daughter says. “He knew more than they did.”
Mr. Garman instead took a job in Buffalo with Johnson, Drake and Pipe, a highway and bridge-building firm. In 1964, he and a partner purchased ABC Paving Co. A few years later, he became sole owner.
He bought Buffalo Crushed Stone, a construction material supply company, in 1978, and expanded it with the purchase of Buffalo Slag Co. in 1982. He went on to acquire ESRC, a utility contracting firm; Newbery Alaska, an electrical transmission company; and Gateway Trade Center, which operated the Port of Buffalo.
Since the sale of his businesses in 2000, he served as president of R&P Oak Hill, a real estate management company with commercial properties in New York and Pennsylvania, and as a managing partner of R.E.G. LLC, a private investment company.
In 2002, he and his wife established the Garman Family Foundation, but also made major contributions individually.
Last year he donated the largest one-time gift in SUNY Buffalo State history – $4 million – to the college’s Art Conservation Department. It has been renamed the Patricia and Richard Garman Art Conservation Department. He also gave $6 million for a new engineering and health sciences building at Bucknell University, which honored him with its Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award in 2005.
The Garmans provided a major gift for the new polar bear exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo, which has been named the Garman Family Arctic Edge. They also made significant donations to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Girl Scouts, the nursing and engineering programs at the University at Buffalo and the Western New York Women’s Foundation, where Mrs. Garman was a founding member.
Mr. Garman was a former board member and chair of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Merchants Insurance Group and the Associated General Contractors of America.
For many years, he was a director of M&T Bank and the Greater Niagara Frontier Council Boy Scouts of America. He was a board member of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where he provided funding and guidance for the construction of its updated storage facility.
In 1999, he received the Niagara Lutheran Healthcare Humanitarian of the Year award. In 2002, he was honored with the Philanthropist of the Year award from the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society.
His wife, who taught psychiatric nursing at D’Youville College and maintained a private practice, died in 2014.
Survivors include three daughters, Michelle Parrish, Kathy Gleason and Melissa Baumgart; two sisters, Bernice Graf and Janet Shirk; 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held Aug. 26 in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave.