Gallagher: Western New York’s Amazing Man
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following appeared in The Post-Journal on Sept. 16, 2001. As part of a continuing series of “Remember When” articles, this piece is about Dick Gallagher and his love for people, on and off the football field.
Dick Gallagher had never felt better.
He had a daily date with his treadmill, he swam, he walked. And, of course, he kept himself busy with his vocation — he serves as the executive director of both the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services and the Kids Escaping Drugs Campaign in suburban Buffalo — and his avocation — he’s the publisher and editor of the Western New York High School Sports News.
So when he hopped up on the examining table during a routine physical at the end of June he had nothing to be concerned about.
Life was good and, of course, high school football — his true love — was only a couple of months away.
But a not so funny thing happened on the way to a clean bill of health.
“The doctor put his hands on my abdomen,” Gallagher recalled, “and said, ‘I think you have an enlarged aorta.'”
Gallagher, 60, immediately had a sonogram, which revealed he had a sizable aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is a “sac formed by local enlargement of the weakened wall of an artery.”
In most cases, an aneurysm, if undetected, is fatal. Had it gone undiagnosed, Gallagher figures he would have been a walking time bomb.”
“I was blessed that they found it,” he said. “God gave me a gift, that’s for sure.”
After years of giving to so many, Gallagher’s kindness was rewarded with the ultimate gift — his health.
“He’s an amazing man,” Jamestown High school football coach Wally Huckno said.
For just how amazing, read on.
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On Aug. 20, Gallagher, a Williamsville resident, had his surgery. Because he was in such excellent physical condition, he was home after two days.
“And even though he’s still recuperating, that didn’t stop him from seeing that his magazine, Western New York High School Sports, was completed and in the hands of subscribers before the first games Sept. 8.
The 40-page magazine, which Gallagher started in 1983, is a bi-annual publication complete with predictions, articles and records. Its mission statement on the second page reads: “The objectives of Western New York High School Sports News are to educate and enlighten the student-athlete, to inform the general public about high school sports and to provide additional coverage and exposure for interscholastic sports throughout Western New York.”
“He just enjoys the heck out of it,” Jamestown assistant football coach Joe DiMaio said. “He’s one of the true boosters of high school sports, especially football.”
Noted Huckno: “I think he’s the best single judge of talent in Western New York, there’s no doubt.”
But judging talent, and attending games every Friday and Saturday is one thing. Publishing a magazine with a staff you can count on one hand is another. Yet Gallagher, upset at what he thought was a lack of recognition for high school football players in the Buffalo area, took the ball and ran with it. The paper started out small — the first issue was four pages — but by the mid-1980s, Gallagher was putting out six issues a year, 20-24 pages per issue, covering teams from Jamestown to Starpoint.
“That was a little crazy,” he admitted.
By the late 1980s, the magazine ran into financial problems and Gallagher sold it to Victoria Publications, which promptly had money problems of its own. Gallagher finally regained ownership after a year and he’s had it ever since.
“Everyone has an ability to find a niche,” Gallagher said. “I think publicizing high school football in Western New York there was a niche for that. It’s never been a money-maker, it’s been the reverse. But the ability to reward kids in so many different ways … I’ve been very blessed.”
Noted DiMaio: “That’s his baby, It’s so important to give kids recognition. He’s so big on that.”
But Gallagher’s desire to recognize high school kids goes beyond the written word. On Dec. 15, he will be the host for the 15th annual WNY Sports Banquet at Classics on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst. Last year, more than 500 people were in attendance and 150 student-athletes, coaches and media members received awards.
“The nice thing about it, too, is that too many times, coaches, media and the kids really don’t get the attention they deserve,” Gallagher said. “To me, it’s something I just hope will continue … when my time is done.”
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Gallagher has been the executive director of Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services for 17 years and has been in the addiction field for 31. He operates eight different programs, including the Renaissance House in West Seneca, which provides in-patient treatment. Another facility, Stepping Stones, is a halfway house for young people. He is also co-founder of Kids Escaping Drugs.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to see kids who have played football, wind up at Renaissance, return to school and wind up doing really well in school and on the football team,” Gallagher said. “The example of that was the kid last year who was the quarterback for West Seneca West, who had been at Renaissance House for a couple of years. He wound up starting for West Seneca West as well as playing basketball and baseball. He was able to graduate and I think he’s going to go into the service at the end of the month.”
And that’s just one of many ways that Gallagher has been able to touch young people’s lives.
He also can relate to them at another level.
He knows in an all too personal way what drug and alcohol dependency can do and the heartache it can cause because he’s experienced it first hand. His daughter, Christine, committed suicide in 1993. She was 24.
“The pain stays with you for years,” Gallagher said. “The biggest thing is the suddenness. It traumatizes you. … I have a tremendous amount of faith and I always have. For the first six months (after his daughter’s death), I carried a towel around. All I did was cry and I went to the cemetery every day. Over time, you accept the fact that she’s at peace with the Lord, and we’ll join her someday.
“She had problems with alcohol and had been treated for chemical dependency. It’s ironic that I was in the field of addiction and I saw my daughter die as a result of addiction. I think that gave me more of a push and more energy to do as much as I can in the time that I have, both in the addiction field and the sports.”
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And, boy, does Gallagher enjoy sports.
In no particular order, he has coached youth sports for 20 years, been on the board of directors of Jerry Butler’s Athletes in Action football camp for the last 10 years and been on almost every team’s sideline at one time or another watching the game he loves.
“That has allowed me to interact with kids from all over Western New York,” he said.
And did I mention that he’s a father of two boys — Mike 36, is an assistant principal at Hamburg High School and Ricky, 30, teaches Spanish and Latin at Clarence High School — the grandfather of four and the husband of wife Ann, with whom he celebrated his 37th wedding anniversary on Aug. 20, the day of his surgery?
“My parents had a gift for being involved in the community, being involved in church and being good family members,” Gallagher said.
Using them as role models, Gallagher took those lessons and applied them in his own life as did his twin brother, Bob, who is involved in girls basketball in Pittsburgh.
“It was just a coincidence that I was in Buffalo doing things for high school football at the same time he was doing a lot of stuff for girls basketball,” Gallagher said.
All in the family, I guess.
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Gallagher’s “extended” family reunion might very well resemble one of his football banquets at Classics. After all, players, coaches, and kids from Renaissance House and Stepping Stones have a connection with a man who has dedicated most of his adult life to them.
The adoration for Gallagher is so great, in fact, that he regularly receives notes, cards and telephone calls from the people whose lives he’s touched, both on and off the field.
But there was one particular letter, written by a young woman who was graduating from Renaissance House, that Gallagher received just after returning home from the hospital that is particularly meaningful to him.
“It was one of the nicest letters I’ve ever received in my life,” Gallagher said.
I wanted to write to you to thank you for all you’ve done for me in my stay here. I am graduating on Sept. 4, finally after all those times you asked me when I was graduating. Now I can say yes! I know that you won’t be able to be present at my graduation, and I feel very sad, but I will be thinking of you and my prayers are always with you. I wish that you could make it for my special day but I will see you when you are feeling better. I’ll be next door at Stepping Stones so I hope that you will come over and give me some high fives! I miss those.
Honestly, your story about your daughter has touched me. It’s given me so much strength to go on. It amazes me of everything you have done for this campus and us kids. If it weren’t for your love for me, I wouldn’t have a chance to turn my life around and get better. Thank you. I will send you a picture of me at my graduation or I’ll keep it for you.
P.S. Get well soon!
There’s one thing that needs correcting, though. The young woman didn’t need to send a picture to Gallagher.
Two weeks removed from his surgery, he was in the audience to see his special friend achieve a personal milestone.
He wouldn’t have been any other place.