Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was respected by all who knew him. He was the ultimate sportsman and a man of integrity and resolve. As the founding and only owner of the Buffalo Bills, his love and commitment to the game of football and the National Football League was unsurpassed. He was well-regarded as the "conscience of the NFL" due to his unwavering commitment to speak his mind with the best interests of both at heart.
He will be remembered for his indelible sense of humor, unwavering passion for life, business and people. He was larger than life, yet he was the everyday man who cared about the person, not what they had.
Born in Columbus, Ohio on October 17, 1918, Wilson moved to Detroit with his family as a 2 year old. He graduated from the University of Virginia and later attended law school at the University of Michigan, before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. He earned his commission within a year and served aboard minesweepers in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
Following his service, Wilson joined his father in the insurance business. Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Wilson owned and operated businesses in a variety of industries. Forever the entrepreneur, he enjoyed success in the areas of manufacturing, oil and gas, real estate, horse racing and breeding, television, trucking, and concrete paving, among others. He was loved by all who worked with and for him and never tired of growing and building companies.
His passion for professional football led to him becoming a stockholder in the Detroit Lions as a minority owner shortly before he purchased the Buffalo franchise in 1959. He selected Buffalo as the home of his fledging franchise on October 28, 1959 and six weeks later named the team the "Buffalo Bills". His team's enjoyed many triumphs on the field, but what he valued the most was his relationships with the players, coaches and team administrators.
In 2009, his professional football career came full circle as the charismatic leader of the Bills was bestowed the highest honor in the NFL with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame while his team, along with the American Football League, celebrated its 50th Anniversary. (Pro Football Hall of Fame Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.)
Mr. Wilson's legacy is established firmly not only in his contributions to the game of football, but certainly as well in his countless charitable endeavors over the years. Investing predominately in both the Detroit and Buffalo communities. Mr. Wilson's mission was to make a tangible, positive impact in people's lives, from the very young to the very old. In 2003, he was honored with the prestigious Seymour Knox III Humanitarian Award and in 2007 he was named the Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year by the WNY Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Also in 2007, he and his wife, Mary, were named the Philanthropists of the Year by the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County
His love for football has been well documented but he also had a deep love for the sport of tennis and was an avid tennis fan and player for many years. Playing with his wife, Mary, they held two international mixed doubles titles In addition, he and his partners, Gardnar Mulloy and Bob Sherman, won international 80 and 85 and over titles in both the European Doubles and Austrian Doubles Championship tournaments.
Ralph Wilson maintained a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, MI. He is survived by his beloved wife, Mary; daughters, Christy and Edith (known as Dee Dee), as well as many beloved relatives, including his niece Mary Owen. He is preceded in death by his daughter Linda Bogdan.
Fans interested in making a donation in honor of Mr. Wilson's memory are encouraged to do so to: The Hospice Foundation of Western New York, The Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter, St. John Hospital Medical Center in support of the Wilson Telemonitoring Program, or a charity of your choice.