Former Medaille President Dr. Leo Downey Passes Away
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Dr. Leo R. Downey, president of Medaille College from 1978-1987, died May 13, 2008 in New York City after an extended illness. He was 89.
A native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Dr. Downey came to the U.S. to study at Fordham University where he completed his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in philosophy. He began his lifelong career in higher education at Iona College as an instructor, later becoming department chair, academic dean, and for a year served as Iona’s acting president.
Later he was the chief academic officer at Mills College, St. Leo University, and College Misericordia. He came to Medaille from McKendree College where he had been vice president and provost.
“Dr. Downey was a man of extraordinary common sense, great vision, and amazing entrepreneurial inclination,” said Charles Dick, who was Medaille’s public relations director during the Downey years.
In 1978, Medaille had less than 400 students and offered only three academic majors. During Dr. Downey’s nine year tenure the number of academic programs offered rose to 13 - including the college’s popular business and animal health technology majors. The college also began a jointly operated graduate program in reading education with Canisius.
From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s Medaille gained wide recognition for its outreach to adults. By 1984, with enrollment approaching 1000, 40% of its students were attending at night.
When Dr. Downey announced his retirement a new science building was nearing completion on the Agassiz Circle campus. The students, faculty, staff, and alumni petitioned the board of trustees to name it in honor of Dr. Downey. It was dedicated May 1, 1987.
That same year, in recognition of Dr. Downey’s accomplishments at Medaille, New York City businessman Robert Milano gave Medaille $200,000 to begin a program in entrepreneurship, and Mercy College awarded him an honorary degree.
Dr. Downey served two years as the chair of the Western New York Consortium of Higher Education and was also on the board of the NYS Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Buffalo.
“Dr. Downey was extremely popular with the students of that era,” said Dick. “Even today, 21 years after he retired, I get emails from those now successful alumni asking about him. He thought of himself as first, foremost, and always a teacher.”
His wife, Jacquelyn Mayer Downey, died in 1986. He is survived by two sons, David and Adam, both of New York City. With the wishes of the Downey family, donations can be made to the Jacquelyn M. Downey Scholarship Fund at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle, Buffalo, NY 14214. There is a memory book available in the library for those who wish to stop in and sign it. Once complete, the book will be forwarded to David & Adam Downey.