Frank J. McGuire played a role in so many businesses, civic initiatives, building projects and political campaigns and was honored so many times by a variety of organizations that it’s no easy task to describe his life briefly.
But his son F. James McGuire said it might best be summed up in a quote that hung on his wall for decades: “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships were built for.”
“He was not afraid of risk or challenge, and always described as brilliant, tough, honest and fair,” his son said.
Mr. McGuire, who built a business of more than 30 companies that employed 1,700 people in Western New York in such fields as construction, health care, commercial real estate development, shopping centers and industrial real estate, died Tuesday in Buffalo General Medical Center. He was 92.
At the time of his death, Mr. McGuire was still working as chairman of the McGuire Group, described by his son, F. James McGuire, as “the highest quality skilled nursing operator in New York State.”
“He worked right until the end,” said Danielle E. Shainbrown, president and chief business officer of the Development Co.
Mr. McGuire was born in South Buffalo, the oldest of five sons of Frank J. McGuire Sr. and the former Mary Kelly.
He graduated from Holy Family School and South Park High School, then became an electrician before joining the U.S. Army, where he served from 1946 to 1948. After being honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant, he worked as an electrician while attending the School of Engineering of the University at Buffalo, where he was president of the Class of 1953.
During his college days, Mr. McGuire said, he once worked to install the aircraft beacon light at the top of the WBEN radio tower in Colden. He told a reporter that he rode an iron ball 1,400 feet up, then climbed the last 100 feet “hand over hand” on a pylon only 20 inches around. “Oh, well, I wasn’t married yet,” he said in an interview. “Guess I didn’t think I had as much to lose as the other guys.”
After graduation, Mr. McGuire was hired by the General Electric Co. in Schenectady, where he worked on the design and development of the nuclear reactors used in the first atomic submarines. At 26, he became one of the youngest managers at the company’s 40,000-employee complex. He attended the Graduate School of Engineering at Union College.
In 1958, Mr. McGuire returned to Buffalo, where he worked for the Buffalo Electric Co. In 1960, with $6,000 in savings and some aid from his parents, who mortgaged their home, he founded Industrial Power & Lighting Corporation, an electrical engineering and construction organization. The firm went on to complete more than $200 million in electrical construction work in upstate New York, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Colorado and Alaska. It became the first American electrical contracting firm to work in the People’s Republic of China in 1981, when employees worked on a Beijing hotel built by Clement Chen, developer of Buffalo’s Hilton Hotel.
In the 1960s, Mr. McGuire expanded into real estate development in Western New York and Florida, where he built several condominiums and three hotels on the west coast of Florida. He and his brother, Gerald, bought local apartment buildings and built condominium developments in Florida.
In the 1970s, the McGuire Group expanded into health care construction and operation. Starting with Seneca Health Care Center in West Seneca, the company eventually operated nursing and rehabilitation facilities in Western New York, Long Island and Michigan, along with apartment complexes for the elderly in upstate New York.
Elected director of the Chamber of Commerce in 1972, Mr. McGuire served as its president in 1978 and 1979. He told a reporter that his focus was on bringing back jobs. “Sometimes I think we should change our name to the Chamber for Jobs,” he said.
In 1979, he resigned from the Chamber of Commerce to run for Erie County executive. With the endorsement of the Democratic, Right to Life, and Concerned Taxpayers parties, he vowed to lower taxes, attract more jobs, and end “cronyism and nepotism.” Mr. McGuire lost but he never stopped working for the community.
From 1980 to 1994, Mr. McGuire served as a trustee of the New York State Urban Development Corporation. In 1985, he was appointed chairman of the Western New York Economic Development Corporation. In 1986, he was appointed the Western New York representative on the New York Sportsplex Committee, where he was responsible for securing state funding for the Buffalo Bisons baseball stadium. In 1987, he served as a member of the Buffalo Waterfront Planning Commission. In 1993, Mr. McGuire was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo to serve on the New York State Council of Fiscal Priorities.
From 1986 to 1988, Mr. McGuire served as national co-chairman of the Democratic Finance Committee and as vice chairman of the 1988 Presidential Trust.
In 1994, News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy described him as “a fund-raising kingpin” for Gov. Mario Cuomo. “I don’t do this because I need anything. I’m a very wealthy man,” Mr. McGuire told McCarthy. “The biggest thing about my relationship with Cuomo is that I’m an advocate for business. I’ve been able, because of this relationship, to create and expand jobs.”
In 1998, Mr. McGuire spearheaded the Business Backs the Bills Committee, which resulted in the sale of suites at Ralph Wilson Stadium and ultimately the signing of a 10-year commitment from the Buffalo Bills.
F. James McGuire described his father as: “An inspiring leader, a loving father and husband. Among the most generous and trusting (sometimes to a fault) people. … A pillar of the business, civic, political and charitable communities, he led by example, and by garnering the respect of all those around him.”
Mr. McGuire was a major supporter of the University at Buffalo, where he served as a trustee of the Foundation and was co-chairman of the university’s successful $290 million Capital Fund drive.
Mr. McGuire received many awards, including the UB School of Management Niagara Frontier Executive award in 2001; the United Way Tocqueville Society Philanthropist of the year in 2007; and Business First’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
The McGuires lived on North Forest Road in Williamsville and continued their living in Williamsville at a new residence in 2016.
Our family, and in particular, Jim, Jackie, Kelly, Charlene, and Frank’s grandchildren, are very thankful for your love and support during this time.