Two Lost Friends


(This column was first published in the July 8, 2002 Buffalo News.)


I write today about two lost friends. In almost every way they were opposites, but each was very important to me.


The first was a community leader and benefactor. Everyone in this region either knew or should have known who George Goodyear was. Tom Buckham wrote a fine obituary for this newspaper but he clearly had trouble reducing so many leadership roles to an article of reasonable length. The News editorial page also spoke to Goodyear's contributions.


But I had the great privilege of knowing this man personally for a half dozen years. I wish our few times together could have been over a much longer period, because he was such a generous person.


Mr. Goodyear was fully characterized by our first meeting. He had called and asked me to visit him to talk about a column I had written.


When I was shown into his apartment, I met a frail man who reminded me immediately of my own father and father-in-law. His first words were an apology for his inability to get around better. He told me that his condition had declined rapidly from the time when he had to give up tennis at the age of 83. To one who had to quit tennis at half that age, his apology was startling.


Down to business. Mr. Goodyear wanted me to join him in encouraging then Buffalo Museum of Science director Ernst Both to extend to book-length an essay he had written about his experiences as a youngster in war-ravaged central Europe. That this man should be so interested in encouraging his friend that he should seek me out to assist him impressed me deeply.


Even though our friendship consisted only of a few letters and a few more meetings, I cherish my contact with this model citizen. I knew of his 64-year association with the museum because I had read his history of that institution, but I knew nothing of his contributions to our orchestra, our schools, our hospitals, our regional broadcasting and our university, nor did I know that he was a chemist with a Harvard law degree. He simply never talked about himself.


George Goodyear was quite simply the finest gentleman I have ever known.


My other lost friend was Art Schaffner. There were no lengthy obituaries or editorials for him.


But I first knew Art in the 1940s and 1950s when he was one of the half dozen premier field ornithologists in western New York and nearby Canada. If you examine The Birds of the Niagara Frontier Region by Beardslee and Mitchell, you will come across Art's name on a great many pages.


As a young man then living in Rochester, I met Art only a few times but those were enough for me to realize his remarkable abilities. He was not only able to identify birds more quickly and accurately than the rest of us — often by their unique call notes — but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the regional avifauna.


I came to know him better when I edited one of his papers for a state journal.


Sadly, when years later I moved to Buffalo I found a quite different Art Schaffner. His mind had gone astray. Usually heavily medicated, he could barely communicate and when he frequently stopped taking his medicine he got into conflicts with family, friends and even the police. Several of us occasionally took Art birding, but it was always a challenge. Despite this, however, he remained for me a trusted source of information about birds.


Two lives, two very different friends. I will miss them both.-- Gerry Rising