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Members of the university community signed a structural beam that will be part of the new William R. Greiner Hall.
Story by Charlotte Hsu; photo by Nancy J. Parisi
At a public memorial that drew more than 1,200 people to the Center for the Arts on Tuesday, colleagues, friends and family paid respects to UB’s 13th president, William R. Greiner, as a man who “dreamed big” and encouraged those around him to do the same.
Speakers at the two-hour event ranged from Greiner’s children to a former student and two UB presidents—Greiner’s successor, John B. Simpson, and his predecessor, Steven B. Sample, who left UB to become president of the University of Southern California.
Thomas Headrick, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, remembered Greiner, a friend for more than 50 years, as vastly knowledgeable, curious, serious, funny, forthright and empathetic, a man blessed with prodigious energy and common sense. He loved the Bulls, the Red Sox and sports in general. In golf, he had a long, flowing swing. In life, he had a big heart and sense of humor.
In all, more than a dozen people stepped to the podium on a stage adorned with sprays of blue and white flowers to honor the man whose leadership transformed the institution he had served for 42 years as president, provost and law school faculty member.
Among those who took the microphone was Jeremy M. Jacobs, chair of the UB Council, who announced that the university would name its newest student housing project after Greiner. William R. Greiner Hall, formerly known as South Ellicott Suites, will blend residential, academic and recreational areas—a fitting tribute for a man who worked tirelessly to enrich the community life of the university. At a reception following Tuesday’s formal program, guests lined up to sign a structural beam for the new building on the North Campus adjacent to the Ellicott Complex, which is expected to be ready for occupancy in fall 2011.
Tuesday’s service was a celebration of Greiner’s life, and his daughter and three sons shared stories about him between smiles and tears. Growing up a Greiner meant being victims of their father’s public affection—kisses and hugs in front of first dates, friends and business associates. The children recalled “Dad” as a man who relished and cherished life. He was tone deaf, but loved music. At parties, he enjoyed feeding his guests—no one left hungry because if 10 people came, he would cook for 50.
Francis Letro, an attorney and one of Greiner’s former law students, delivered one of the most poignant speeches at the memorial. He remembered his old teacher as a man who made it his life’s work to educate and mentor “ordinary kids like me,” those who hailed from little or no means but were “long on hope and big on dreams.”
“He understood the value of public education to families like mine,” Letro said. “He understood that law students like me from working-class families needed a professional role model, for which he served as such for countless students.”
Greiner’s former students can honor him, Letro said, “by bringing to the courtrooms, boardrooms and classrooms the humanity and civility that our beloved professor, colleague and mentor epitomized during his 40-some years of service.”
Greiner will be remembered publicly for many accomplishments. He heralded the construction of five state-of-the-art student apartment complexes; grew the university’s research enterprise; dramatically expanded cultural programming and outreach with the opening of the Center for the Arts; spearheaded UB’s drive to Division I athletics; and oversaw the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the institution’s history.
In private, UB’s 13th president will be remembered for these achievements, too. But friends, family, students and colleagues also will celebrate him for the ways in which he touched their individual lives and helped them accomplish what many thought they could never do. He loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved Buffalo, he loved UB and he loved the Bulls. In life, his energy and generosity helped all of them reach greater heights. His memory and spirit lives on in their triumphs.
With a warm smile, Bill brought “human–ness” to UB. Over the years, it was always a pleasure to see Bill and Carol Greiner grace the Center for the Arts with their presence. Bill was a dancer at heart; from watching him dance with Carol at UB Scholarship Galas in the CFA Atrium to attending Zodiaque Dance Company concerts in the CFA Drama Theatre. He respected the academic pursuits of scholars, athletes and artists. I am confident that he has found more golden floors beneath his feet.
Tom Ralabate, Associate Professor, Dance
I will never forget meeting President Greiner as a freshman when he and his wife opened their home to the UB marching band during the 2000 football season. I was overwhelmed by their generosity at inviting us to a private barbecue at their home where we spent hours talking and laughing together.
Kari Terwilliger, MUP ‘08 & BA ‘06, Planner
Bill Greiner cared deeply about people–his faculty colleagues and administrators, the front–line and back–office staff, and most importantly students, especially undergraduates. He hated inane rules that caused students incredible stress. That’s how he first connected with me, enlisting me to help untangle some red tape on the behalf of those students. Bill always showed me respect and personal concern, and even praise. I was humbled by his kindness. I am so grateful to have known him.
Joanne Plunkett, EDM ’75, Staff Member (Retired)
At one commencement ceremony, I particularly recall Bill commenting in his address about how proud and impressed he was at seeing the accomplishments of the graduating class. He then, in his self–effacing manner, acknowledged how at that moment he felt upstaged by them.
Anthony Rozak, BFA ’69, Associate Professor, Department of Visual Studies
I am proud to say Professor and President Greiner was a major reason for my success. Two (of many) stories from my 28 UB years stand out. Bill Greiner stood by me during the politically risky work in Hickory Woods; he understood my commitment and instead of retreating under political pressure, supported my work publicly as an example of how university faculty should contribute to difficult community issues, linking research with community problems. The second is when Carol and Bill were marching as I received the Newman Award from the Newman Center. Carol leaned over to my son and whispered to him that of all the awards we might receive, this one was the most important one. No one cared so much for UB and Buffalo.
Joe Gardella, Professor and Larkin Chair of Chemistry
There is an Italian expression, “sprezzatura,” that is hard to translate but means something like “the talent for doing something unusually difficult with unaffected ease and grace.” Bill Greiner had that gift.
Jack Peradotto, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus
I will always remember “Mr. G’s” kind smile and welcoming attitude. Whether it was hosting parties for professors or shaking the hands of students at football and basketball games, you never felt that you could not approach him. He always remembered your name and always took the time to see how you were doing. The years I spent working catered events at the Greiners’ home and office are some of my most treasured times at UB. I will forever cherish the moment of walking across the stage to receive my MSW and finding Mr. G with his arms outstretched for a hug.
Danielle (“Danni”) Miller-Juliano, MS W ’00 & BA ’96, Social Worker
Professor Greiner–Bill–influenced so many lives at UB, mine included. I had the privilege of working near him twice–at the Law School in 1972 and again on the fifth floor of Capen Hall. I remember being invited to a meeting with the leaders of the WNY arts and cultural community before the opening of the Center for the Arts. I wanted to make a good impression and wore a brand new suit. I was standing nervously awaiting the start of the meeting when Bill walked in, gave me a hard slap on the back and said “nice suit.” He knew. I’ll miss him very much.
Sandra Fazekas, EMBA ’01 & BPS ’86, Associate Director, Center for the Arts
I was amazed by Bill Greiner’s presence and his passion for the university and for athletics. He and his wife, Carol, would come to every game possible to support the basketball team firsthand. Bill was never one to support us from a white tower in the sky; he was there in the trenches with us. Both he and his wife knew all the players by first name and always offered words of wisdom. Sometimes they cheered so loud from courtside that I could barely hear Coach Witherspoon. The personal touch that Bill Greiner brought to the presidency at UB is what I will always remember and miss most.
Mark Bortz, BS ’05, Professional Basketball Player
Professor Greiner was my teacher during the fall 2005 semester for the Readings in Higher Education course. He had a gift for making you feel very important. No matter what you said–he listened and often guided you into a debate to explore your thoughts even deeper–something a true teacher will always strive to do.
Wynnie Fisher, PhD Student
Bill was, at his core, a man who loved teaching and students, and gave his life in service to UB. He so believed in this community and was devoted to the love and support of Carol and their family. Bill Greiner had no complicating ego and was always eager to find ways that his colleagues’ lives at UB could be enriched.
John N. Walsh III, Vice Chair of the UB Foundation and UB Council member emeritus