Published December 3, 2021
When talking with Charles Tirone, chances are the conversation will divert onto twisting and entertaining paths. One moment, the topic is football. The next, paraprosdokians. Often, there’s a twinkle in his eye as he challenges you to keep up with his brain which, like the computers he uses for research, is always working quickly.
Tirone has played, and continues to play, many roles during his life, as well as for UB.
A member of the Bulls’ 1958 football team, which refused to play a bowl game after organizers would not allow Black players to participate. An Army captain in the Vietnam War. One of Western New York’s busiest radiologists. Husband. Father. Entrepreneur. And now, another chapter: adjunct professor of practice in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
“My current research is in computational investing,” the 84-year-old says. “I also teach courses, advise students and collaborate in areas directly related to their expertise and experience. My serial entrepreneur background allows me to teach and collaborate with students in diverse subjects.”
UB has been central to Tirone’s personal and professional life for decades. He earned a BA here in 1959, then an MD in 1963. Before then, however, he was a student athlete.
The Bulls’ 1958 football team, which finished the season 8-1, was subsequently invited to play in the Tangerine Bowl in Florida. One catch: The team’s two Black players, Willie Evans and Mike Wilson, would not be allowed to play because organizers forbade integrated teams.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture picks up the story:
… (At) what should have been a moment of pure joy and celebration, these jubilant young men were asked to validate something else — institutional racism.
Without hesitation, the players voted unanimously to reject the invitation.
“That was a simple decision based on team brotherhood and, little did we realize, it would become a momentous bonding force for us for life. (The Rev.) Jesse Jackson said we won ‘the most important game never played,’” says Tirone.
“Had we played in the bowl and won, we would never have experienced the notoriety or accolades we subsequently received over the years for making that simple decision. Brotherhood in sports is practiced every day, but it takes a fortuitous turn of events to get media notoriety for it.”
In 2009, the team was awarded the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest honor. In October, the team was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Tirone’s favorite memory of playing with the Bulls isn’t so much the games themselves, but the act of “recounting the various events in practice and in games, which were fun,” he says. “Whenever we get together today, it is pretty amazing. When we recall those same games and experiences, we get faster, stronger and better.”
After earning his medical degree, Tirone wed Anne Reilly, to whom he’s been “happily married for 57 years,” he says. “We met when she was a student medical technologist at Buffalo General Hospital and I was a medical student with a part-time job in hematology at Buffalo General Hospital.”
Because of her, he says that “we have had many wonderful experiences with family and with friends” over the years, including for their 25th wedding anniversary, when they traveled to Ireland.
“We were there for one week and I thoroughly enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish people and their bed-and-breakfasts. My wife, who is Irish, said that was because they thought I spelled my name ‘Tyrone.’ The country was beautiful. I kissed the Blarney Stone. We had an exceptionally good time. I always say that if I had been there two more days, I probably would have converted from Italian to Irish.”
Two years after the wedding, in 1966, Tirone was serving in the Vietnam War as a captain in the 101st Airborne Division.
“My (time) in Vietnam was very trying,” he says. “It disrupted my medical career because, instead of being stationed in a hospital or battalion station, I was assigned to be the medical officer for a small group of young reconnaissance troops that secured areas for the remainder of our artillery battalion. I spent the entire (time) in a tent, moving every three to five days from one spot to another as we secured forward posts for the rest of the battalion.
“I was not a happy camper. It gave me my lifetime fill of camping. On reflection, it was a tumultuous time. I did not want to be in Vietnam, but had to be there to serve my country. The Vietnamese people did not want me there. The people at home did not want us there. When I returned home, I could not believe that the medical students were demonstrating against us being in Vietnam. We weren’t welcomed home as heroes. We were ridiculed and disparaged. It was a trying time and part of my life that I rarely think about.”
Returning home, and to his medical practice, he turned to radiology. In the over 50 years since 1969, he’s witnessed many changes in his field.
“Radiology, more than most fields in medicine, has experienced tremendous technological changes since 1969, and I was fortunate to have firsthand experience through most of those changes,” he says. “When I started in radiology, you had to wear red glasses to accommodate your eyes to fluoroscopy, which was held in a darkened room with a manual fluorescent screen. Automatic film changers and intravascular catheters were not invented yet. There were no prosthetic joints. CT, MRI and PET scanners were only theoretical dreams.”
Over the years, he says, he’s worked all over Western New York. Hospital, medical offices; you name it, he’s probably been there.
Never one to sit still, intellectually speaking, Tirone has always been fascinated by the stock market and business.
Over the years, in addition to being a registered investment adviser, he founded eight businesses and was involved in nine others. He is a graduate of the UB Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s Core Program, which aims to strengthen the skills and operational knowledge of emerging entrepreneurs.
In 2018, he was introduced to Chunming Qiao, then-chair of computer science and engineering, by Marianne Sullivan, who served as the department’s top administrator.
Initially, Tirone planned to start a student club — two of the topics he was interested in were inventions and investments. But that evolved into an elective course he taught with Zhen Liu, adjunct lecturer in the Department of Economics.
More recently, he has been teaching students how to play the stock market using computer science. He used to be on campus every Tuesday evening, but since the pandemic, he has been teaching via videoconference.
“The Wizards of Odds is the name I have adopted for my class in teaching stock market investing in computer science,” he says, adding that he plans to develop a website that illustrates the odds in practical terms for individualized stock market decisions.
Tirone is also working on another project with David Doermann, Empire Innovation Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and two graduate students on creating more efficient ways for football coaches to analyze football films and use football metrics.
Tirone enjoys his family, whom, like him, exhibit the same quirky sense of humor. He and his wife have four adult children: Steven, Mary Elizabeth, Katherine and Amy. Tirone notes that Amy, the youngest, once drew a chart “showing how quickly the members of the family leave the room when Dad says, ‘I've got an idea.’” The middle daughter, Katherine, created the “Tirone Tribune,” a “satirical publication chronicling the foibles of the members of the family.”
In addition to work and family, there is also Tirone’s love of games and whimsy. He enjoys casino table games, Sudoku, mystery novels and jokes.
“I enjoy collecting paraprosdokians, puns and clever sayings,” he says. A paraprosdokian is a “figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part,” according to EnglishForum.com.
Two of Tirone’s favorites, as typical of the form, take unexpected, humorous twists. “Where there’s a will … I want to be in it,” he says. The other favorite proceeds similarly: “Sometimes I wake up grumpy in the morning … and sometimes I let her sleep.”
Jokes aside, Tirone has had a meaningful impact on UB over the decades, and the university on him. For his contributions and experiences over the years, he still has ideas on how to make the university a better place.
“I am not smart enough to change the world,” he insists. “I have some concrete goals to change some small things at UB.”