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Auto dealer Billy Fuccillo dies

William "Billy" Fuccillo
William “Billy” Fuccillo

William “Billy” Fuccillo, president and CEO of the Fuccillo Automotive Group, died last week at his home in Sarasota, Fla., following a long illness. He was 65.

Born and raised in Greenport on Long Island, Mr. Fuccillo got his start in the automotive industry in 1978, after attending Syracuse University on a football scholarship and graduating with a degree in marketing. He was broke and could not pay his rent, so he went to work as a sales representative for a Chevrolet dealership in the Syracuse suburb of Fayetteville, Onondaga County.

“The only reason I ended up in the automobile business was I was dead broke. I didn’t know the difference between a battery and an alternator, but one thing I knew was I had to pay the bills and I had to pay rent,” Mr. Fuccillo told the RBJ in an interview in 2008, adding he tended bar at night to supplement his income.

In 1980 Fuccillo went into the auto wholesale business at Fred Rainier Auto Sales in DeWitt, Onondaga County. Two years later he branched out on his own, selling vehicles wholesale for roughly seven years.

In 1989 Fuccillo purchased a Dodge store out of bankruptcy in Adams, Jefferson County. It was his first foray into the new car market. Shortly thereafter he purchased a nearby Chevrolet store, followed by a Ford store. Eventually, Fuccillo built an auto mall and the company’s headquarters in the town of roughly 5,000 residents.

Mr. Fuccillo’s auto empire eventually became the largest privately held automotive retailer in New York state and the largest Kia dealer in the world. Mr. Fuccillo held the record for both Hyundais and Kias sold in one month. He sold his two Greece dealerships to a Broome County dealership in January 2021.

Well known for his “huuuuuge” tagline, Mr. Fuccillo told the RBJ that it came about accidentally.

“One day after I got my first dealership and I was doing a commercial with Tom Park, a radio spot, I said, ‘It’s huge, Tom, it’s huge.’ And all the radio stations caught on to it,” Mr. Fuccillo explained. “About two or three weeks later they started accepting calls and doing promotions and giving people trips who could imitate me the best. It really caught on fast.”

Mr. Fuccillo contributed to a number of charitable organizations including domestic violence organizations, Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Assumption Food Pantry, the Center for Disability Services and others.

He enjoyed golfing, was a thoroughbred owner and was fond of good food and wine.

But his passion, he told the RBJ in 2008, was his son, William Fuccillo Jr., who now serves as president of the Fuccillo Automotive Group.

“The most important thing in my life and the thing I’m proudest of is my son,” he said at the time.

Mr. Fuccillo told the RBJ he gained valuable insights from his father through the years, but he never had a business mentor.

“That song ‘My Way’ might be very fitting to me,” Mr. Fuccillo said. “I kind of did it my own way. I believe in what I believe and that’s it.”

Mr. Fuccillo is survived by his wife, Cynthia, his son, William Fuccillo Jr., his parents, a sister, nieces and his pet, Rudy.

A funeral mass in celebration of his life will be conducted June 25 at Our Lady of Pompei/St. Peter Church in Syracuse.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Former Kodak CEO dies

Colby Chandler
Colby Chandler

Former Eastman Kodak Co. leader Colby Chandler died March 4. He was 95.

Mr. Chandler joined Kodak in the 1950s and served as chairman and CEO from 1983 to 1990. He presided over the company when Kodak employed more than 60,000 people in Rochester.

Mr. Chandler was a graduate of the University of Maine and received his MBA from the Sloan Fellows program of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Throughout his life, Mr. Chandler served on a number of boards and in advisory roles. He was chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Export Council. He was a director of Rochester companies Pictometry International Corp. and VirtualScopics Inc. He was chairman of the Industrial Management Council, which later merged with the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc. to become the Rochester Business Alliance Inc., now the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc.

“Even after 14 years of retirement, if somebody said to me, ‘Would you like to go back to work doing what you did before?’ I would jump at the chance,” Chandler told the RBJ in a 2004 interview.

Mr. Chandler was a proponent of the manufacturing sector and eschewed a shift to service industries.

″Watching the swing toward a service-intensive society and listening to some parties say that’s good is scary,″ he told the Associated Press in a 1988 interview.

In his spare time, Mr. Chandler was a tennis player and avid reader. He told the RBJ that when he retired he had some 1,000 books and nearly all were non-fiction. That changed when his tennis group became a book club.

“(With the club) I would say two out of the three books are fiction. And I love it. I love the discussions,” he told the RBJ.

Funeral services are being provided by Anthony Funeral Home. No memorial events are currently scheduled.

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Longtime Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation President Donald Whitney dies, age 72

Donald Whitney
Donald Whitney

Longtime Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation President and Trustee Donald Whitney died on Sunday following a brief illness. He was 72.

Mr. Whitney was born Jan. 29, 1948, in Watertown, Jefferson County. Following his graduation in 1966 from Adams Center Central High School, Mr. Whitney earned an associate’s degree from Adirondack Community College, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SUNY College at Potsdam and an administration degree from St. Lawrence University.

Mr. Whitney married Linda Reed in 1971 and they had three daughters together. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday.

Mr. Whitney spent more than 40 years in education, having taught reading, writing and spelling at Belleville Central School District and Watertown City School District. He also served as a reading consultant at Harold T. Wiley School in Watertown before becoming an assistant principal. In 1987, Mr. Whitney became principal of the Sherman Street Elementary School. Over the next two decades, he served as principal in nearly every building of the school system. He finished his last decade as Case Middle School principal and retired in 2010.

As a nephew of Daisy Marquis Jones, Mr. Whitney had served as a trustee for the foundation since 1993 and as president since his retirement in 2010.

“After he retired from his teaching position he would come to Rochester almost every week for two or three days to help run the foundation, which was a lot of work to drive every week from Adams Center, near Watertown,” said foundation Trustee John Matteson. “He loved to drive, even in the wintertime.”

The Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation was established in 1968 by Daisy Marquis Jones and her nephew Leo Marquis Lyons as a way of giving something back to the community. The foundation is dedicated to improving the well-being of residents in Monroe and Yates counties by funding programs that aid disadvantaged children and families. It is a member of the Grantmakers Forum of New York.

Mr. Whitney was known for his love of the outdoors as much as his passion for staying busy. He enjoyed mountain climbing and was an avid hunter.

“The best thing about Don was he never sat still, he always had two or three things going at one time,” Matteson said.

Mr. Whitney is survived by his wife, Linda, three daughters, Kamra (Dan) Rowland, Shannon Whitney (Brian Wekar) and Megan Whitney, three grandsons, three sisters and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

Calling hours will be at the Carpenter-Stoodley Funeral Home in Belleville, Jefferson County, on Friday, Jan. 15, with a private funeral service on Saturday. A celebration of life will be held in the summer of 2021.

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David Gantt leaves legacy of serving the underserved

Longtime state Assemblyman and civil rights advocate David Gantt died Wednesday. He was 78.

David Gantt
David Gantt

Mr. Gantt was born in 1941, in Opp, Ala. He was the oldest of five brothers, growing up in a single-parent household with humble beginnings. His family moved to Rochester when he was 10.

Mr. Gantt attended East High School but graduated from Franklin High in 1960. He studied at Roberts Wesleyan College but left to go to work and help his family financially. He worked for Case-Hoyt Corp. for more than a dozen years, while also taking continuing education classes at Rochester Institute of Technology.

A longtime civil rights advocate and leader, Mr. Gantt also worked as a youth counselor for the city of Rochester before entering politics.

Mr. Gantt’s lifelong role model was his mother, Lena Mae Gantt, who knew education would be the basis for whatever her sons accomplished in life. She later encouraged her oldest son to run for political office.

“I am profoundly saddened by the death of Assemblyman David Gantt. To me, David was more than an employer, more than a mentor. He was like a father to me and many others,” said Monroe County Legislature Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder in a statement. “David was the last of a dying breed of politicians, ones who really felt that their responsibility is only to the people who elect them. He would always remind us that the seats we hold don’t belong to us; they belong to the people. I believe the reason for his dedication to his constituents came from the fact that he never forgot who put him in office.”

Mr. Gantt entered politics in 1960 when he volunteered for the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, and in 1973 he ran for a seat on the Monroe County Board of Supervisors, the precursor to today’s County Legislature. He won, setting the stage for his 1983 entry to the state Assembly. Mr. Gantt served in that role until his death, having announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.

“I am profoundly saddened by the passing of David Gantt. I had the pleasure of calling David a close and trusted friend for over 50 years, and I will miss him dearly,” said City Council President Loretta Scott in a statement. “Our community has lost a transformative leader, a civil rights pioneer and a fierce advocate for equity. As the first Black leader from Monroe County elected to state office, David changed the landscape of our community and gave a voice to the disenfranchised. As an elected official, he fought for affordable housing, voting rights, access to health care, reliable infrastructure and safe neighborhoods. This community was like family to David; he offered mentorship, support, guidance and love. Like his mother, Lena Gantt, he spoke loudly with confidence and clarity, and he never backed down in his pursuit of justice. His legacy will live on through the work of those he inspired and will continue to forge a path towards a more equitable world.”

Mr. Gantt touched many lives in Rochester and was responsible for finding the funding necessary for myriad projects in the city he loved.

This year Jordan Health held a special dedication in Mr. Gantt’s honor. Its new $3.4 million expansion at the Anthony L. Jordan location was named the Honorable David F. Gantt Pavilion.

“When I moved here eight years ago, one of the first people I was told I had to meet was Assemblyman Gantt. Gantt was considered a godfather for Jordan Health. He was not only a pioneer but he was also a champion,” said Janice Harbin, President and CEO of Jordan Health. “It was an honor to get to know him and his fighting spirit. Assemblyman Gantt’s legacy will live on forever.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he knew Mr. Gantt for many decades.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Assembly Member David Gantt – a career public servant who never left his neighborhood and always took care of his community,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I’ve known and worked with David for decades – from my father’s administration to my time at HUD through my time as governor. Like his mother Lena, David spent his career fighting poverty and advocating for the underserved. We shared a mutual respect for one another, in part because we both came from strong mothers who taught us the value of doing good for others. He was plain-spoken and always let you know where he stood, and I will miss his friendship and presence in the Capitol.”

Among his many accomplishments, Gantt helped save more than 700 jobs at Rochester’s Hickey–Freeman Co. Inc. through state funding that helped the company rebuild. He secured millions of dollars for city schools and $12 million for Rochester EOC.

Mr. Gantt helped secure funding for WXXI Public Broadcasting System, Monroe Community College, Action for a Better Community, Gilda’s Club and many more. Baden Street Settlement of Rochester Inc. also benefited from his actions, in part because of his close ties to the organization. The nonprofit helped him after his family’s move to Rochester.

“I am incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Assemblyman David Gantt. Assemblyman Gantt leaves a legacy of community service and activism that many in elected office aspire to achieve,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “Throughout his decorated 37-year career in the state Legislature, Assemblyman Gantt was a fighter, a voice for the voiceless and a mentor to numerous community leaders, elected officials and everyday citizens alike. His impact and advocacy can be seen throughout the city of Rochester and the communities that he was elected to represent for nearly four decades. His efforts in the state Assembly and his strong belief in our community will be felt for many years to come.”

Mr. Gantt was not afraid to go against the grain. He supported Rochester’s ill-fated fast ferry to Toronto and a downtown transit center. He was in favor of the state taking over city schools. And he stood against a proposed juvenile justice center and the building of Frontier Field. But always he had Rochester’s best interests in heart.

“Rochester lost one of its fiercest champions today. David Gantt was a fighter who worked tirelessly for the community he served and loved so very much. For more than three decades, he passionately advocated for Rochester and did his best to fight the good fight,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “We grieve alongside the Rochester community and offer our deepest condolences to Assemblyman Gantt’s family and friends.”

Mr. Gantt mentored a number of community leaders, including Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.

“Assemblyman David Gantt was a father to me. He loved me unconditionally and inspired me to be who I am today. He saw something deep within me and did everything he could to help me, and countless others, achieve their dreams,” Warren said in a statement. “David will leave a lasting legacy in this community because he always stood up for what was right and for the people he represented.

“For decades, he worked and served tirelessly to lift up our city and all of its people,” she added. “He also believed in me when few did. He inspired me, took care of me when I was sick, guided me as built my career and my family. And, he will always be part of my family. He has not only lifted me up but countless people throughout our community.”

In 2002, Mr. Gantt told the Rochester Business Journal he enjoyed being an assemblyman and had at least another 10 years in him, which, he joked, was “bad news” for his critics.

“I’m not going to retire,” he said at the time. “I intend to be around for a while.”

And so he was.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Lester Eber, longtime distributor, dead at 82

Lester Eber, who worked for more than six decades in the wine and liquor industry, much of that time representing the former family-owned Eber Brothers Wine & Liquor distribution company in Rochester, died April 5 from complications of COVID-19. He was 82. 

Several groups affiliated with the industry have posted tributes to Mr. Eber upon learning of his death, as he was a familiar face across New York and Connecticut.

If you asked anyone in New York state government that had any involvement in our industry, they knew Lester because Lester was tireless. He regularly traveled all across New York to get the job done, and it was always with a kind word,” read a tribute shared by the Metropolitan Package Store Association. 

Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said in a weekly newsletter that Mr. Eber “always treated me with kindness and generosity even though I often was on the opposite side of public policy debates from him. We even had a plan to play tennis together sometime this spring.”

Mr. Eber lived his entire life in the Rochester area, graduating from The Harley School and later the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon completing his degree at Wharton in 1959, he began working for his father at Eber Brothers, eventually taking over leadership of the company. 

In his later years, Eber continued to work as a lobbyist in Albany for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, the company that bought his family’s business in 2007. 

The son of the late Evelyn and Allen Eber, Mr. Eber is survived by his wife, Ellen, son David, daughter Wendy (Eric), and five grandchildren. Sisters Mildred Boslov and Sally Kleeberg predeceased him.  

An active golfer, tennis player and swimmer, Mr. Eber was also a fan of basketball and the Buffalo Bills football team. He served for many years on a number of Rochester boards of directors, including those for Rochester Management, The Jewish Home, and Allendale Columbia school. 

Because of health restrictions due to the pandemic, no calling hours nor public funeral were held; the family may schedule a memorial service at a later date. Memorial donations may be made to Strong Memorial Hospital, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275

Joe Fee, co-owner of Fee Brothers, dies at 55

Joe and Ellen Fee of Fee Brothers. Joe Fee died Thursday. (Provided photo)
Joe and Ellen Fee of Fee Brothers. Joe Fee died Thursday. (Provided photo)

A funeral was held Monday for Joseph Fee, co-owner of Fee Brothers, the Rochester-based, fourth-generation maker of bitters, mixes, cordials and other flavorings for cocktails. He was 55.

Mr. Fee, who died on Friday of complications from a respiratory infection, was the son of the late Jack and Margaret Fee. A brother, Francis X. Fee, predeceased him.

Besides his sister and business partner Ellen Fee (Jody), Mr. Fee is survived by five other siblings, John (Carol) Fee, Mary (Jonathan) Spacher, Elizabeth (Bob) Krieg, Peggy Fee, Lucy (James) Vergo; and several nieces and nephews.

Mr. Fee managed sales and administration of the family-owned company and traveled widely on behalf of Fee Brothers, where he worked for 29 years. The Fee siblings assumed ownership of the business from their father in 2012. Their parents died in 2015.

“Everyone knew Joe as the face of Fee Brothers. His combination of business acumen, sales and marketing skills, coupled with a genuine joy for living, made a lasting impression on the people he worked with,” said Ellen Fee. “Joe loved to travel and meet with people in the industry — and they surely loved him in return. He will be missed.”

Indeed, hundreds of tributes on the company’s Facebook page are coming in from far away as Australia, and as close as the heating company that worked on the Portland Avenue business’s heating system. Many are from business colleagues he met in places such as Athens, Kentucky, Indiana and other states and countries.

Many of those offering condolences mentioned Mr. Fee’s trademark Panama hat and the way he generously shared Fee Brothers products with them, told jokes and was genuinely friendly even to people he didn’t know well.  Mr. Fee’s hat was so associated with him that if he stepped out without it, his sister said, his customers and colleagues wouldn’t recognize him.

With the hat and height of 6-foot-4, he cut a distinctive figure, Ellen Fee said. “People saw him coming.”

After three previous generations ran the company, Mr. Fee brought Fee Brothers into the digital age, his sister said. When he graduated from Notre Dame University in 1991 with a degree in finance, he pulled the plastic off the computer his father had rejected three years earlier, replaced the outdated machine and brought the company up to date.

Mr. Fee also brought the company to the world.

“Joe got us onto every continent other than Antarctica, and that was not for lack of trying there,” she said. “He was a force known around the world. He was not a naturally born sales person, but he was such a joker, he figured out how to fit in with people just by being funny.”

Mr. Fee would visit with distributors around the world, then have the distributors take him to the bars and other places Fee Brothers products were being sold in their countries, thus becoming known globally, his sister said.

Mr. Fee enjoyed various water sports, traveling on small cruise ships, and was especially handy. He remade his fixer-upper home in West Irondequoit on his own and lent his skills to friends and customers, his sister said.

While Ellen Fee manages day-to-day operations of the plant, Mr. Fee handled sales, administration and legal aspects of the company. Ellen Fee said she will make some walnut bitters on Tuesday and then start tackling the company’s taxes before starting to learn what her brother’s job entailed.

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275