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November 1995

The Raths: A Dynamic Duo

by Kim BALCERZAK

November 11, 1958 is a day that will live on in history — especially for Edward and Mary Lou Rath.
    “We had just come back from my having been sworn in as an attorney in Rochester,” recalled Edward Rath. “It was November 11, 1958, Armistice Day.”
    “We became engaged under the under the red light at the corner of Elmwood and Allen,” added Mary Lou Rath. “I don’t know why I remember, but I guess you don’t forget something like that.”
    And so began what has become a lifelong commitment to each other, their children, and their community for one of Western New York’s most notable couples.
    After meeting in late summer 1958, the Raths had a short, whirlwind romance — dating in September, becoming engaged in November, and getting married in January the following year.
    Each moment together — then and now — has always been treasured. Especially in the early dating days when he was involved in a play at Studio Arena Theatre.
    She would watch the daily rehearsals, and the couple would go out after.
    “After watching all those rehearsals, I could’ve played any role,” she quipped.
    Throughout the years, they have both played many roles — mother and father, community volunteer, attorney, coach, advocate, and more.
    Many of you, however, know them better in their civic roles as New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward Rath, and his bride of 36 years, New York State Senator Mary Lou Rath.
    In joining the Rath family, Senator Rath became encircled in a rich political heritage founded by the late Erie County Executive Edward A. Rath, the Judge’s father.
    Her introduction to the high-powered world of politics was one to remember.
    On their second date, the former Mary Lou Schmitt found herself dining with then New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller after a cocktail party.
    “I’m sitting across the table from Governor Rockefeller and I thought, well this is kind of surprising,” she recalled. “This is a real interesting group of people to be out with.”
    From that point on, the Raths became very involved in politics, their family, and their community.

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At left, Senator Mary Lou Rath and Judge Edward Rath, II, at an Ismailia Shrine Temple function. The Rath family sharing Easter Sunday. Pictured in the bottom row, from left to right, are: Melinda Sanderson, Mary Lou holding Catherine, Allison Garvey, and Margaret Whetzle. In the back row, from left, are: Bruce Sanderson, Edward Rath, III, Edward, George Whetzle, and James Garvey.



    An alumnus of Canisius College, Syracuse University and the University at Buffalo Law School, Edward Rath began his law career in 1958 with the Honorable Norman A. Stiller.
    Later, he was associated with the firms of Lansdowne, Horning and Elfvin, and Kennedy and Smith.
    During that time, he served as counsel to the New York State Senate Majority Leader, Assistant New York State Attorney General in charge of the Buffalo/Rochester offices of claims and litigations, and as confidential clerk to then Supreme Court Justice Norman A. Stiller.
    In 1978, Judge Rath was elected Village Justice in Williamsville, a position he held until his election to the State Supreme Court in 1984.
    He has served as a State Supreme Court Justice for the past 11 years.
    Meanwhile, Mary Lou Rath had earned a bachelor’s of science degree from Buffalo State College, a New York State Insurance Broker’s License from UB, and was caring for their three children.
    She was also very active in community affairs through her work with the Junior League, the Landmark Society of Western New York, and the United Way.

    Public office soon entered the picture.
    How did Senator Rath become involved in politics?   
    In the local elections of 1977, the 15th legislative district where the Raths reside, was represented by a Democrat who was the majority leader in the Erie County Legislature.
    Edward Rath, was approached to run against him as the Republican candidate. However, the success of his law practice left him little time to consider accepting legislative duties.
    He felt that his better half would be the best candidate, and he convinced her to run.
    And run she did, the old-fashioned way, going door-to-door to meet and talk with the 15th legislative district constituents. The campaign became a family affair. Even the kids became involved.
    “The kids loved it,” said Senator Rath. “They were very much involved. And on election night that first year, my strongest recollection is the pride the children had.”
    “It’s always been a family thing. The kids and their friends always expected to be a part of it. And, it’s always been fun.”
    Their hard work paid big dividends.
    She beat the incumbent by a wide margin, to become the first Amherst woman ever elected to public office. She became the representative of the 15th District of the Erie County Legislature.
    During her tenure in the Legislature, Senator Rath founded the Welfare/Medicaid Reform Coalition, and served on such prominent committees as Budget, Finance and Management, Economic Development and Government Affairs.
    In 1988, she became the Republican leader of the Legislature, a position she held until her election to the New York State Senate in 1993.
    Her ascension to the state’s highest governing body marked the first time that a woman was elected to the Senate from Western New York.
    Despite their busy professional schedules, the Raths always made sure their children - Allison Garvey, Melinda Sanderson and Edward Rath, III - came first.
    “Our primary interest was with our family, and everything else was secondary,” explained Judge Rath.
    “We’ve always been a very close family, and have done a lot of things together like traveling, playing sports, and getting involved in activities that we could all enjoy together.”
    “I coached little league football and baseball when my son was growing up.”
    “And we were all involved in ski racing when I was running the Kissing Bridge Athletic Club Ski Program, and when I served as a supervisory official at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.”
    “Family is vital,” agreed Senator Rath. “We’ve done things that are now the bedrock of our family memories.”
    “We’ve gone on special vacations to Spain, Mexico, Colorado, Florida, and the Lake Louise area. We often sit around at dinner time and talk about those things that are really important to all of us.”
    It’s a tradition that continues, now that the Rath’s have two granddaughters - Catherine Margaret and Sara Louise Sanderson.
    Today, Judge Rath is a member of the New York State Supreme Court Justices’ Association. He presently serves as treasurer, and is scheduled to be named president of the organization.
    An avid tennis player and occasional golfer, he continues to be active with the Rotary Club; the Ismailia Temple, where he served as potentate in 1991; the Amherst Shrine Club; and the Buffalo Bills’ Monday Quarterback Club.
    He also is past president of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the Allegany State Parks Commmission from 1971 to 1993, and was chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board for three years.

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Pictured from top to bottom, are the Rath children: Edward III, Melinda, and Allison. Senator Mary Lou Rath poses with her granddaughter on the day of Catherine’s christening.


    Senator Rath continues to strongly support the efforts of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the Landmark Society of Western New York, and the Junior League.
    The Senator and the Judge both enjoy sharing the ski slopes, as well as the theatre; and the Buffalo Bills, Bandits and Sabres games.
    Weekly family dinners which often include Senator Rath’s mother, Margaret, and step father, George Whetzle, are cherished.
    Both are committed to several community activities, including the Salvation Army, the New York State Conservative Council, Calvary Episcopal Church, and many more.
    What is high on their wish list?
    To cheer the Buffalo Bills on to their first Super Bowl win, and the Buffalo Sabres to their first Stanley Cup.

 

Kim Balcerzak is a freelance writer.

 

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