Mary Wilson: Tending Ralph Wilson’s legacy

Buffalo

We all have our memories of the Buffalo Bills first Super Bowl – and despite the way it ended – this game is Mary Wilson’s favorite Bills memory.

She was a tennis coach in 1990 and had just started dating the owner of the Buffalo Bills.

“The first Super Bowl.  One hundred percent,” Mary Wilson says when asked about her favorite. “I had no idea what it took to get to a Super Bowl. But I loved that game. I loved being there with Ralph and experiencing his first Super Bowl.”

Mary Wilson’s love for football grew along with her love for Ralph Wilson. They were married for ten years before he died in 2014.  What makes her happy now is carrying on his legacy.

And Buffalo is getting a taste of how that legacy will touch every one of us. The old LaSalle Park has been renamed as the Ralph C. Wilson Junior Centennial Park and it will get a 100 million dollar makeover – with a trail system and waterfront lagoon.

And, it’s just one of many, many projects to come.

Ralph Wilson made plans for the fortune generated by the sale of the Buffalo Bills after his death. $1.2 Billion dollars and growing – is now powering the foundation in his name to be spent doing good works in Western New York and Southeastern Michigan – the two places Wilson loved. Mary is one of the trustees deciding how to spend the money.

“It’s not hard to give money away. It’s hard to give it away effectively,” Mary Wilson says.

To be effective, the foundation is focused on four areas:

  • Promoting active lifestyles, particularly among children and families;
  • Providing career skills and education for young adults and working families to prepare for success;
  • Supporting valuable caregivers;
  • Promoting entrepreneurship and economic development.

“He would be thrilled with the way we’re doing it,” Mary Wilson says. This has come along at such an impactful time because this money can impact organizations that are already doing good things.”

The Foundation has already granted millions of dollars to dozens of projects in Western New York and Southeastern Michigan.  The giving will continue for another 15 years.

Mary Wilson is emotional thinking about Ralph Wilson’s legacy in Buffalo – and her own.

“The great thing that happened to me was, of course, Ralph Wilson. But also Buffalo.  I fell in love with Buffalo.”

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