Tom Beecher sitting in a chair in his office.

Vincent Lopez/Holy Cross Magazine

Tom Beecher: A heart for the city

Growing up as the eldest of nine children, Thomas R. Beecher Jr. ’59 learned quickly to manage the disparate interests of a roomful of people.

And steeped in the traditions of Jesuit education, first at Canisius High School in Buffalo and then at the College of the Holy Cross, he took as an article of faith that, “You’re not here for yourself, you’re here for others, so do something about it.”

That led to a long and successful professional life on two tracks: building his thriving law practice, and becoming one of the most effective changemakers in Buffalo’s recent economic transformation.

“You’re not here for yourself, you’re here for others, so do something about it.”

A lot of lawyers serve on corporate boards or contribute their time and talent to a favorite nonprofit. For Beecher, the list of such endeavors is long. It was the relationships he built through that kind of community service, from his earliest days as a young lawyer who joined the local Kiwanis club, that made possible one of the city’s signature economic developments. As chair of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a nonprofit corporation founded to create a world-class medical campus in downtown Buffalo, Beecher brought to reality a dream long stymied by inertia and turf wars.

Now the 120-acre medical campus, anchored by Oishei Children’s Hospital, Buffalo General Hospital, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is a bustling and gleaming nexus for medical care and research.         

Beecher is quick to point out that the project wasn’t his idea – former Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin had proposed such a campus years earlier. But when Griffin’s successor, Mayor Anthony Masiello, asked him to spearhead the project, “I took the idea and ran with it,” Beecher says. “I decided I wanted to make that my life’s work for a few years. There was a lot of juggling. I didn’t have the talent to do all the things that needed to be done, but I was able to find the people who did have those talents, and mostly I got out of the way.”

Health care is a notoriously competitive business, and one challenge was to persuade the region’s major players to cooperate toward a common good. Beecher brought to the task his three years as board chairman of Buffalo General Hospital, when he helped lay the groundwork for the hospital's merger with two other hospitals into the Kaleida Health System.

But he also brought a willingness to reach out to friends and business acquaintances and their networks, and to promote the project tirelessly on television and in personal appearances. That relationship-building paid off with a high degree of collegiality, and soon the long-dreamed-of medical campus began to take shape.

“My proudest moment was when we finally had three construction cranes on the campus at one time,” Beecher says. “I thought, ‘Now we’re getting someplace.’ ”

He brought those same skills of connection and vision to what he calls his favorite endeavor, helping to establish the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund, which has provided more than 33,000 scholarships over the past 25 years for low-income students to attend private schools in the city.

“I was just a volunteer,” he says of his work in the community. “I still had a very busy practice, but that was a separate life. I managed to live two busy lives at the same time.”