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December 1996

Burt P. Flickinger, Jr. - A Friend To All

 

by Maria SCRIVANI

What is the measure of a man? Is it the influence he has on his community, or the leadership he displays in attitude and action?

Is it the affectionate regard in which he is held by family and friends, or the warmth he exudes in all relationships?

Perhaps it’s the competitive spirit that drives him; a resound- ing call to succeed. Maybe it’s a sense of responsibility to others so deeply ingrained as to render failure unthinkable, if not impossible.

A man possessing any of these qualities is measured highly indeed. A man with all of them is Burt Flickinger.

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Burt Flickinger and his wife, Mary, take a break during festivities
for the World University Games.

Listen to the people who know him best:

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“Burt is the least complicated person I have ever known, mainly because he doesn’t carry around a lot of egotistical baggage.”

- Mary Flickinger

“Burt is the least complicated person I have ever known, mainly because he doesn’t carry around a lot of egotistical baggage,” said Mary Flickinger, his wife. “That permits his total focus to be on helping others.”

Marriage to such a man means getting accustomed to his being inadvertently left behind, she added.

“When we leave our seats on an airplane, we start out together, but are soon separated by 10 to 15 other people, because Burt always waits for others to go ahead.

This holds true whenever he holds a door open for me - and for the rest of the populace who follow behind me!”

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"No job too small, no job too large’ sounds like a commercial, but actually that is all in a day’s work for Burt.”

- Mary Cochran

According to Marcy Cochran, Burt’s secretary for the past decade, that kind of caring guides all his activities.

“I have been fortunate to see this man, a person who could have retired to the easy life, work endless hours on campaigns to raise money for many of Buffalo’s finest organizations - often tired but never weary. ‘No job too small, no job too large’ sounds like a commercial, but actually that is all in a day’s work for Burt.”

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“His word is his bond, his handshake is a contract and his untiring efforts are legendary.”

- Ralph Kushner

Need to raise 10 million dollars?

Got a 700-pound gorilla who could use an airlift to the zoo?

Hankering for a new athletic complex?

Want to bring a major world athletic event to Buffalo?

In Western New York, the ungrammatical cry ‘Who you gonna call?’ is often answered in civic and charitable circles with a resounding “Burt Flickinger!”

Close friend and business colleague Ralph Kushner was in Burt’s office when the call about the gorilla came in. A request had been made for use of the Flickinger Company’s corporate plane to transport a gorilla from the Chicago Zoo to Buffalo.

Burt politely informed the caller that the plane was used strictly for business purposes.

Thinking that was the end of the matter, Kushner was surprised to hear the lead story on the next night’s television news about an anonymous local businessman who had donated a corporate plane to make the zoo run.

In typical Flickinger fashion, Burt had quietly and without fanfare accomplished the unlikely.

Had he not been privy to the telephone conversation, Kushner -and now the rest of Western New York - would never have known who the anonymous donor was.

“I have never met a man who is as fine a gentleman as Burt Flickinger” he said. “His word is his bond, his handshake is a contract and his untiring efforts are legendary.”

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"...Western New York is a better place to work and raise a family because of their efforts."

-Larry Castellani

A “humble humanitarian” is the simple yet apt description bestowed on Burt by friend and associate Larry Castellani.

“Regardless of the cause - and Burt has served so many - he has always been willing to help with both his time and financial support.”

“Burt and Mary have been so dedicated to the betterment of the Western New York community in so many different ways and for so many years, that clearly, Western New York is a better place to work and raise a family because of their efforts.”

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“It was the first time I ever saw him at a loss for words. I considered his acceptance an honor.”

- Jim Demme

Another friend, Jim Demme, echoes those sentiments. Recall- ing the day he asked Burt to be best man at his wedding, he said “It was the first time I ever saw him at a loss for words. I considered his acceptance an honor.”

Demme characterizes Burt as “an individual with the highest degree of moral and ethical standards; a man who will work tirelessly, whether it be in the business world or in community efforts, to achieve success.”

“He’s a man who can never say no to a project that will help others; a man who is looked up to by many as the ultimate role model.”

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“Burt was taught by his father to work first and play later. Other lessons learned were self-taught - deliver on whatever you promise, the other guy comes first and help the community.”

- John N. Walsh, III

John N. Walsh, III, a colleague and friend, agrees.

“Burt was taught by his father to work first and play later. Other lessons learned were self-taught - deliver on whatever you promise, the other guy comes first and help the community.”

He cited Burt’s work in helping to raise $10 million dollars for Children’s Hospital in 1989-90 as an example of Burt’s tireless dedication.

“With every child at 219 Bryant St. gently riding on his shoulders, Burt confounded the experts and exceeded the goal in just 12 months.”

“He produced daily campaign reports, chaired weekly campaign meetings, conducted hundreds of solicitations, was at all 2 a.m. shift presentations and remains a legendary sleeves-rolled-up Santa in our halls.”

“If you helped him today his thank you letter would be received tomorrow. Every employee, volunteer, prospect, donor and patient respected him. It was a matchless education and a pleasure working beside him. I gained a lifelong friend.”

“With rare humility and at considerable sacrifice of time, talent and treasure - like his late friends Seymour Knox, III, and Dr. Ralph Loew - he inspires us by his vision, leadership and class.”

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"For me, Burt epitomizes true success - family, faith and community."

- Kathleen Lawley Best

Kathleen Lawley Best, a friend, calls Burt Flickinger a personal hero.

“We are all in constant search of a person who we would choose to emulate in our lifetime,” she said. “Upon returning to Western New York after college, I have been fortunate to have met and worked with Burt in various capacities. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate more and more just how valuable a man like him is to our community.”

“Success can mean so many things for so many people. For me, Burt epitomizes true success - family, faith and community.”

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"There is no double agenda with him. When he asks you to do something you cannot say no. He gives and does not seek for himself."

- Bob Fine

A living example of the Golden Rule is the way other friends have tried to characterize the unique qualities possessed by Burt Flickinger.

“I have seen him as a son, hus- band, father, business executive, community leader and friend,” said Bob Fine. “There is no double agenda with him.”

“When he asks you to do something you cannot say no. He gives and does not seek for himself. Burt truly believes in the Golden Rule.”

Fine recalled visiting Burt when he was undergoing therapy at the Erie County Medical Center ... “He had a private duty nurse who stayed in his room, her only duty being to make Burt comfortable. He had to ask for her assistance on a few occasions. Each time Burt apologized for interrupting and subsequently thanked her very much.”

In business, Burt is known to be equally courteous and solicitous.

“When Burt was in Hawaii he placed calls to friends and business associates in Buffalo,” said Fine. “He always asked, ‘Is this a good time or am I bothering you?’ If the recipient wasn’t available, Burt did not leave his telephone number and request a return call. He did not want the recipient to bear the expense of returning a call to Hawaii. The message was simply that he will call back later.”

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“Burt put us in a position to succeed by giving us more responsibility and support when we ran into problems.”

- Tom Heine

Tom Heine was hired by Burt Flickinger in 1974, when A&P left town. As an inexperienced 24-year-old he was thrilled to have the opportunity to grow with a successful local business.

“Burt put us in a position to succeed by giving us more responsibility and support when we ran into problems,” he recalled. “His door was always open and, because of this, no one feared to bring a problem to him. I will always look on Burt as my mentor, a true leader by example.”

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"...rolling up his sleeves at meetings as a way of saying, 'Let’s get down to work.' Burt’s generosity and tireless efforts motivate thousands to join him."

- Robert J. Kresse

Another old friend, Robert J. Kresse, said his most enduring picture of Burt is that of him actually rolling up his sleeves at meetings as a way of saying, “Let’s get down to work. Burt’s generosity and tireless efforts motivate thousands to join him.”

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"He left no stone unturned."

-J. Patrick Greenwald

J. Patrick Greenwald, who has worked with Burt on fund-raising projects for Canisius College, also talked of the man at work in shirtsleeves as well as his legendary solicitude.

“I remember reviewing with Burt the agenda for a Trustees Development Committee meeting prior to his first time chairing it. As always Burt wanted to be sure he fully understood all the agenda items and the results we were hoping to achieve. As you would expect with Burt as the chair, the meeting ran smoothly.”

“Two days later a note arrived on my desk expressing his thanks for the preparation and voicing his concern about whether or not it was appropriate for him to remove his suitcoat and roll up his sleeves - a Burt Flickinger trademark. He left no stone unturned.”

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"...this is a man who lives the Golden Rule every day of his life."

- Jeff Yates

Jeff Yates most recently worked with Burt Flickinger on the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s 60th anniversary fund drive.

“During that time I often found myself thinking about what it is that makes him such a special person,” he said. “In addition to his extraordinary generosity, work ethic, intelligence and wit, there is an ‘extra something’ that makes Burt unique and endearing.”

“I became aware of this ‘extra something’ the first time I met Burt. I was working for the Chamber of Commerce at the time and Burt was in the lobby, waiting for a meeting. I introduced myself, mentioned a project I was working on and asked if he had any advice. Burt closed our brief encounter by saying he’d give it some thought.”

“The next day I received a letter from Burt containing his advice, point by point, along with names of other folks that might be willing to help. I thought to myself ‘this is a man who lives the Golden Rule every day of his life.’ This is the ‘extra something’ that makes him so special.”

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"At the bridge table he prepared price lists for his 4 a.m. start at Flickingers and admitted to me that he regularly bid one more trick than he could support in his hand, counting on opponents’ errors."

-E.W. Dann Stevens

E.W. Dann Stevens is Burt’s oldest and dearest friend. They were ‘best men’ at each other’s weddings. He saw something special in a very young Burt Flickinger.

“Burt’s passion for business was already evident in grade school. He founded a mini-corporation with printed stock certificates, marketing plans, dividends and, finally, a liquidating distribution with a profitable return of capital to his stockholders. The product line consisted of a variety of school supplies, toys and edibles that appealed to his classmates.”

Stevens also saw the fierce competitor on so-called “leisure” time, adding that ... “His softball career continued for many years in various Flickinger softball leagues. He was also unbeatable on his home ping-pong table, even dragging some of us into a city YMCA tournament.”

“His expertise in bridge led him to numerous duplicate tour- naments with a period of very regular bridge evenings. At the bridge table he prepared price lists for his 4 a.m. start at Flickingers and admitted to me that he regularly bid one more trick than he could support in his hand, counting on opponents’ errors.”

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"Burt wouldn’t have anything to do with it because he knew they were phony baseballs and he was still able to dunk those people."

- Peter Flickinger

Once, Burt’s skill in tossing a ball caused him to be an unwelcome World’s Fair visitor.

As his brother, Peter Flickinger, explained, there were two World’s Fairs in 1939. The Flickingers spent a week at the one in San Francisco on Treasure Island.

“Burt was a good baseball player, a pitcher for our sandlot team. One of the games on the midway cost 10 cents. You got six balls and you’d try to knock milk cans down. Or, if you hit a target, you could dump a girl into a tank of water. The girls were wearing swimsuits, and the San Francisco nights were cool. The baseballs were weighted so it was hard to hit the target.”

“Burt, with his dedication and zeal, hit the target a couple of times and in went the girls. We came back the next night and he did it three or four more times.”

“The girls didn’t like it because they were getting dumped and they didn’t usually get dumped. The third time around we overheard one of the girls say ‘if those guys come around again, we’re quitting.’ That night Burt got maybe four hits.”

“On the fourth night the proprietors came out and tried to buy us off. Burt wouldn’t have anything to do with it because he knew they were phony baseballs and he was still able to dunk those people. The next time we came down two of the girls were no longer there.”

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"Burt’s courage is as big as his heart is generous."

- Sherlock Herrick

A childhood friend, Sherlock “Skip” Herrick, cited “modesty” and “courage” as two defining attributes of Burt Flickinger.

“His awesome accomplishments are truly legion and of course have generated some press coverage because most of them affect the entire community,” he said.

“But Burt by nature is a modest soul, and no one really knows all that he has done for his family, for friends, for many other people - and for Greater Buffalo.”

“Burt’s courage is as big as his heart is generous. Few know the personal sacrifices he made with the World University Games. He did his best, not for himself, but for us all. That took tremendous personal courage.”

The same persistence he exhibits in the professional realm is evident in Burt’s personal life. Family members recount the lessons of the man as a son and as a father who demands as much from himself as he gives.

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"I have always been proud of my son” she said, “and supported and encouraged his interests - including bathing his guinea pigs for the Erie County Fair and housing his inventory of chameleons and baby alligators..."

- Marjorie Flickinger

As his mother, Marjorie Flickinger, explained, Burt’s creative approach to life and learning began as a child. She worked hard to foster his talents, even in some surprising situations.

“I have always been proud of my son” she said, “and supported and encouraged his interests - including bathing his guinea pigs for the Erie County Fair and housing his inventory of chameleons and baby alligators (in the bathtub) for his 7th grade project at Nichols School.”

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"Dad earned enough money with his neighborhood entrepreneurship at age 6 to call Yellow Cab to take himself and his first girlfriend, Betty Butzer, age 5, to Offermann Stadium to watch a Bison baseball game - unescorted."

- Burt P. Flickinger, III

Burt’s son, Burt P. Flickinger III, who learned the wholesale food distribution business under masterful tutelage, has found inspiration in family anecdotes about his father.

“Dad was No. 1 in his class at the Campus School, the best athlete and the most popular boy in the neighborhood. On the playing field they called him ‘Big Smoke’ for his ability to clear the bases and break neighbors’ windows with his long home runs.”

“Dad earned enough money with his neighborhood entrepreneurship at age 6 to call Yellow Cab to take himself and his first girlfriend, Betty Butzer, age 5, to Offermann Stadium to watch a Bison baseball game - unescorted.”

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"Burt would always know the score, whether I did or not."

- Molly Ryan-Ewert

Stepdaughter Molly Ryan-Ewert, recalled a childhood filled with fond memories.

“Anyone who knows Burt knows that he’s competitive and very successful,” she said. “I’ll never forget how Burt would watch my tennis matches and would get so upset because I didn’t keep score as well as I should have. Burt would always know the score, whether I did or not.”

He was also a generous and thoughtful parent, she added ... “When I was 10-years-old and very active in gymnastics, I adored (Olympic great) Nadia Commeneci. For my birthday Burt gave me a signed LeRoy Nieman print of her. It’s still above my bed in my old bedroom.”

“He also gave me my first record, The Associations Greatest Hits. I loved the song “Windy” and sang it constantly. Burt found out who sang it and bought me the album - most likely so he wouldn’t have to listen to me sing anymore!”

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"Over the years, I have re-played Dad’s question trying to better understand and learn from my behavior."

- Caherine "Bambi" Schweitzer

Burt’s daughter, Catherine “Bambi” Schweitzer, believes her Dad has “spent a lifetime making daily deposits into the bank of good will.”

Burt’s compassion extends to all living creatures. One day, when then 6-year-old Bambi was helping her Dad pack the car for their annual summer trip to see Burt’s parents in Lake Placid, a “very large and scary bug” jumped out of the car and landed on the driveway at her feet.

“Impulsively I stepped on it and killed it without regard for my actions” she said. “In one of the few moments in my life when my father spoke harshly to me, he asked ‘How can you do this to another creature that has done nothing to harm you?’ ”

“Over the years, I have re-played Dad’s question trying to better understand and learn from my behavior. This began a lifelong lesson about how I react to things, known or unknown and how to conduct myself toward all the creatures on the earth - with respect, decency and fairness.”

“These are the qualities that have guided my father and ones that he truly cared to emphasize with his children.”

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"He treated everyone the same - with respect, care and decency."

- Peter Ryan

Peter Ryan, who spent his college summers working part time in the Flickinger warehouse, recalled his stepfather heartily embracing the start of each new day.

Once, after working back-to- back shifts, Peter was dragging his feet on the job and dreading the last two hours of his day.

“Just then I heard the very familiar outgoing, resonant voice of Burt shouting personal greetings to his employees. He came around the corner and saw me in the aisle. ‘Hey, Peter, way to go!’ he said.”

“Here I was feeling sorry for myself, and here he was starting his day at 5 a.m. the same way he always did - happy, positive, enthusiastic and proud to be leading the way at S.M. Flickinger.”

“He treated everyone the same - with respect, care and decency. The employees loved to work for Burt.”

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“Dad has a special quality of seeing the good in everyone...He always sees the positive”

- Molly Ford

As another daughter, Molly Ford remembered, “Dad has a special quality of seeing the good in everyone.”

“We rendezvoused with Dad and Mary in Boston for a weekend around the Harvard-Yale football game. Our son, Tyler, really wanted to see where Dad went to college and to share in some of his memories.”

“While we were at breakfast one morning we had a waiter who could do nothing right. I mean he was incredibly inept. At one point we started talking about how bad the guy was.”

“Sure enough Dad piped in and said ‘He did a good job bringing the orange juice.’ He was serious. He always sees the positive. It is such a wonderful quality.”

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“On countless occasions he has put aside his own feelings on an issue in order to meet the other side ‘on their turf.’ ”

- David Ryan

Stepson David Ryan cited Burt’s skills as a diplomat.

“On countless occasions he has put aside his own feelings on an issue in order to meet the other side ‘on their turf,’ ” he said.

“His work in conflict resolution and coalition building between different - oftentimes opposing religious, racial and economic groups - is legendary and is what I respect in him most.”

“This work is fostered by his personal belief that if we are to solve the world’s problems, we must do so collectively.”

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"He has a talent for separating the issue from the personal with the result that he is always able to go back."

- Margaret Turner

Burt is also revered as a teacher, good friend Margaret Turner explained.

Working with him many years ago on a project for the American Lung Association of Western New York, she sought his help in soliciting corporate volunteers. Burt asked her to call him and let him know how a big event went.

“Finally I screwed up my courage and phoned Burt,” she recalled. “‘How did it go?’ he asked. ‘Not very well,’ I replied. Instead of turning me off as I had feared, Burt became the analyst, advising me on what had to change if the agency were to meet its goals.”

“Next act of courage for me: ‘Would you help us make these changes?’ I asked. That question marked the beginning of a wonderful collaboration. First ‘Burt’ lesson for me - don’t be afraid to tackle your problems head on. It’s often the easiest way to solve them.”

Perhaps the most valuable lesson she learned is to never close the door on a relationship.

“Watching Burt operate through the years, he sometimes won his point and he sometimes lost it. I have never seen him end a meeting, however, without words of true respect for the other participants.”

“Burt is a true gentleman, but it is more than that. He has a talent for separating the issue from the personal with the result that he is always able to go back.”

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"Burt always finds time for others and he gives his best regardless of the task or the person."

- Noel M. Stanek

Noel M. Stanek recalled meeting Burt Flickinger just a year ago while working on a campaign for the Sisters of Mercy and Trocaire College.

“Despite the fact that Burt had no previous relationship with either group, he met with us and immediately began working to guide us through the planning process.”

“Once we asked Burt to review an extensive list of names. For most that process would have taken weeks. Within 48 hours Burt had not only reviewed the list, but had given his thoughts on each name and added information that was most helpful to us going forward.”

“What was most amazing was that he completed it while away in Hawaii. Burt always finds time for others and he gives his best regardless of the task or the person.”

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"Burt is my hero and my role model."

- Richard Gioia

It’s a special treat when your hero becomes your good friend, said Richard Gioia.

“Burt is my hero and my role model. I will never forget how touched I was by Burt when he exhibited compassion and comfort while visiting my dying father in the hospital.”

“Burt was very helpful to me personally and to my family as a whole as we attempted to carry on the traditions my father established in the community and in the business world.”

“Burt always had time for me when I needed advice both when I entered the pasta business and when I left.”

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"He is our guardian angel."

- Robert M. Greene

Burt’s “can-do” attitude is legendary in Buffalo.

“Throughout the almost three years of planning and preparations for the WAVA Championships, Burt was our protector, our problem solver, our cheerleader and our coach,” said friend Robert M. Greene. “He never said, ‘Can’t.’ He looked for a solution or created one. It always seemed that Burt solved our problems out of nothing but air - but we knew better.”

“He has done so many wonderful things for so many people in our community, that everyone jumps at the opportunity to do something ... anything ... to thank him. He uses that indebtedness to help someone else.”

“He was our guardian angel. He’s Buffalo’s guardian angel.”

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"I guess Burt’s heart can be found all over Western New York."

- Carmine Grande

Many Flickinger anecdotes reveal his ability to transcend personal concerns in focusing on the greater good.

Carmine A. Grande, a friend who has worked with Burt on fund-raising projects for Children’s Hospital, recalled how even a stroke couldn’t keep this good man down.

“Never was there any self-pity, but rather a keen interest in how the hospital’s Deeds of Giving campaign was going,” he said.

“Despite all that he had been through Burt kept focused on what was important - not himself - but giving for the benefit of others.

“There is a well-known Biblical passage that talks about where one’s treasure is, one’s heart will be found.”

“I guess Burt’s heart can be found all over Western New York. Beyond his own treasure, Burt has helped others to find their hearts and experience the joy of giving.”

Burt P. Flickinger, Jr. - Forever Young

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Maria Scrivani is a free-lance writer from Buffalo, NY.

Photos of Burt Flickinger and family were provided courtesy of the Flickinger family.

 

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