BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – From Hospice Buffalo to Roswell Park, Ralph Wilson’s legacy stretches far beyond the stadium in Orchard Park that bears his name.
But though he had an enormous impact in Western New York, some of the ways he touched individual lives are truly incredible. Van Miller started working for the Bills in 1960, the first to call plays for the team Wilson created. His friendship with Wilson would remain strong for more than five decades.
“It was just a great, great honor and a great thrill to be part of the Bills, and most of all part of Ralph’s life,” Miller said.
The two quickly became friends, and even played tennis together. Miller says Wilson’s commitment to Buffalo never wavered.
“I think he came to like Buffalo and to like the people and to realize that they were great fans and they needed something like this. They needed a professional team. A small market? So what?” Miller said.
Wilson’s love for the players was well known.
Miller recalled, “He was very, very close with the players, always. He never would bad mouth one of his players. Never, under any circumstances, no matter how many games they won or lost.”
And even when the Bills were losing, Wilson stayed committed to the team and the fans.
Miller said, “He had a love affair with the fans in Western New York, and some turned their back on him, you know, and criticized him. But how can you criticize a man who has done so much, that if it were not for he, we…might not even be holding this conversation?”
Wilson also gave a lot to Buffalo beyond the Bills. Roswell Park benefited greatly from his kindness.
Roswell Deputy Director Dr. Candace Johnson said, “He gave over $11 million to projects around the country. Roswell Park was fortunate to get $2 million of these funds.”
Wilson had a passion for medical research. In addition to cancer research, he provided pilot funds for research into spinal injuries and nervous system damage. Many of those injuries were related to football.