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Wilson to posthumously receive Norton medal


Published April 24, 2014

The late Ralph Wilson Jr., founder and 54-year owner of the Buffalo Bills, will be honored with the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest award, during the university’s 168th general commencement on May 18.

Nancy H. Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Robert Gioia, president of The John R. Oishei Foundation and chair of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, will receive the UB President’s Medal in recognition of extraordinary service to the university.

Also during the ceremony, SUNY honorary doctorates will be presented to UB alumnus Ira Flatow, host of Public Radio International’s “Science Friday”; Jack Lightstone, president and vice chancellor of Brock University in St. Catharines; and UB alumnus Norman McCombs, recipient of the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Ralph Wilson

The Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal is presented annually in public recognition of a person who has, in Norton’s words, “performed some great thing which is identified with Buffalo … a great civic or political act, a great book, a great work of art, a great scientific achievement or any other thing which, in itself, is truly great and ennobling, and which dignifies the performer and Buffalo in the eyes of the world.”

Throughout his distinguished career, Ralph Wilson Jr. had a profound impact regionally and nationally. A founding member of the American Football League, he established the Buffalo Bills franchise in 1959, the only team to remain in its originating city. Recognized by The Buffalo News as the region’s top sports figure of the 20th century, Wilson was inducted in 2009 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the highest honor in the NFL.

A pioneering proponent of youth football nationally, he was a vital supporter of numerous community organizations, including the food banks of Buffalo and Rochester, the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, and the Buffalo Zoo. With his wife, Mary, he was a leading supporter of many regional health institutions, including the Hospice Foundation of Western New York, the Cancer Wellness Center, Hunter’s Hope and the Kaleida Health Foundation.

Through the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation and the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, he provided significant support to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, and established the Buffalo Bills Team Physician’s Fund to support UB’s Department of Sports Medicine. Wilson also established major scholarship programs at Canisius College, SUNY Fredonia, St. John Fisher College and the University of Virginia.

A World War II Navy veteran who served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, Wilson has been awarded numerous national and regional honors for his philanthropy, patriotism, and civic and sports leadership, including the NFL Alumni Order of the Leather Helmet, the National World War II Museum’s American Spirit Award and the Sovereign Grand Commander’s Medal of Honor by the Masons. Wilson passed away in March at the age of 95.

Nancy Nielsen

The UB President’s Medal, first presented in 1990, recognizes “outstanding scholarly or artistic achievements, humanitarian acts, contributions of time or treasure, exemplary leadership or any other major contribution to the development of the University at Buffalo and the quality of life in the UB community.

As senior associate dean for health policy at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Nancy H. Nielsen, MD ’76, advises UB leadership, faculty and staff on health care reform in an effort to help prepare the medical school to play a leading role in transforming health care delivery in Western New York.

A past president of the American Medical Association (2008-09), Nielsen was recruited by the federal government in 2011 to serve a two-year appointment as senior adviser for stakeholder engagement at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to her experience as an internist and leader in academic and organized medicine, she has served on boards of directors for numerous organizations, including the National Patient Safety Foundation, the National Quality Forum, the Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company and Kaleida Health. She also served as chief medical officer for Independent Health, an HMO headquartered in Buffalo.

Nielsen has been a respected colleague and invaluable mentor since joining the UB faculty in 1979 and during her tenure as former senior associate dean for medical education. Active with the UB Alumni Association and the medical school’s Dean’s Advisory Council, she is a campaign co-chair for UB’s new downtown medical school.

In 2009, Nielsen was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

She holds a doctorate in microbiology from Catholic University in Washington, D. C., and a medical degree from UB.

Robert Gioia

A Buffalo native, Robert Gioia has been a strong community leader dedicated to the betterment of the Western New York region for decades.

Gioia began his career in 1970 as part of the third generation of the Gioia family operating the Gioia Macaroni Company. From 1992-2007, he was a principal with the Food Group of Strategic Investments and Holdings Inc., one of the most experienced equity acquisition firms in the nation today.

He served as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority from 1990-98, overseeing completion of the $120 million Buffalo-Niagara International Airport and was named one of The Buffalo News' 1997 Citizens of the Year.

Gioia was board president of Nichols School and the Martin House Restoration Corporation, chairman of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, a director of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and a trustee of St. Lawrence University.

In January 2007, he was appointed president of The John R. Oishei Foundation, Western New York’s largest private charitable foundation.

Later that year, he was named chairman of Great Lakes Health, which was established by the New York State Department of Health to implement Berger mandates involving Erie County Medical Center and Kaleida Health.

Gioia again was named one of The Buffalo News’ Citizens of the Year in 2007 and was named the 2009 Buffalo Niagara Executive of the Year by UB’s School of Management.

In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed him to serve on the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC); he currently serves as chair.

Ira Flatow

Honorary degree recipient Ira Flatow, a 1971 graduate of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has spent more than 40 years combining his passion for science with his talent as an anchor, reporter and host for public radio and television. Since 1991, he has been the host of the acclaimed radio program “Science Friday” — originally part of National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” and now broadcast by Public Radio International — bringing an informed and balanced discussion on science to educate, influence and inspire generations of listeners. 

As a nationally and internationally recognized radio and television journalist, Flatow shares an informative discussion on a range of topics, including science, technology, health, space and the environment, with his weekly “Science Friday” audience of 2 million listeners.

Dedicating his life to promoting a greater understanding of science and technology, Flatow is the founder and president of Science Friday Initiative, a non-profit company dedicated to projects that increase public access to scientific information.  He also is the author of three science-related books: “Present at the Future” (2007), “They All Laughed” (1992) and “Rainbows, Curve Balls and Other Wonders of the Natural World Explained” (1988), each praised for clarifying complex scientific principles and making them accessible, relevant and fun for a wide audience.

Widely honored for his work to bring science to the public, Flatow has received numerous awards and honors, including the American Humanist Association’s 2012 Isaac Asimov Science Award, the Scripps Institution for Oceanography 2010 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest and the 2000 American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalist Award.

Jack Lightstone

Honorary degree recipient Jack Lightstone took office as president and vice chancellor of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, on July 1, 2006. He also holds an academic appointment as professor of history in Brock’s Faculty of Humanities.

Before coming to Brock, Lightstone spent 30 years at Concordia University in Montreal. A longtime professor of religion at Concordia, he served from 1989-92, as associate vice rector, academic (research). He was also provost and vice rector from 1995-2004, and led an extensive academic planning process through a difficult period of budget restrictions and into a period of major renewal and expansion.

Lightstone received his BA from Carleton University and his MA and PhD from Brown University. He was a visiting research graduate fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1974-75. He has written and lectured extensively in his academic field and remains an active scholar funded by external peer-reviewed grants. Fluent in English, French and Hebrew, he is the author of six books and his work is widely published in scholarly and professional journals.

Lightstone has served on a broad range of external boards and organizations, including the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts; the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region; the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies; and Fonds Québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture. He is also a member of Ridley College’s Board of Governors and has been appointed to the Prosperity Council of the cities of St. Catharines and Thorold.

Norman McCombs

Honorary degree recipient Norman R. McCombs is a pioneering inventor whose innovations have spurred a billion-dollar industry, created thousands of jobs worldwide, and improved the quality and duration of life for millions. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation — the U.S. government’s highest honor for technical achievement — in 2011 and holds 50 U.S. patents.

In the 1960s, McCombs developed a method of gas separation known as Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA). While applicable as a means of separation of a wide variety of feed streams, he focused on the separation of air as a means of producing high concentration oxygen. His efforts led to the use of these safe, low-cost, on-site PSA oxygen systems for waste water treatment, metal cutting, fish farming, ore refining and virtually any other commercial application for oxygen.

He then turned his attention to the design, development and manufacture of a device called a Portable Oxygen Concentrator (POC), which has become the preferred source of oxygen for the millions worldwide suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)-related conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, as well as cancer and other diseases of the lung. Recognizing the need for increased portability McCombs went on to develop a wearable, lightweight, battery-operated POC. Subsequent approval by the Federal Aviation Administration for use on aircraft opened the door to air travel for millions in need of therapeutic oxygen.