Gordon Gross is so humble and down-to-earth you would never suspect that he is one of Buffalo’s most civic-minded citizens and generous philanthropists. A founding partner of the law firm Gross, Shuman, Brizdle, & Gilfillan, Gross is driven by causes and a duty to give back to others.
He has a self-deprecating sense of humor when talking about himself. “When I came to Park in my freshman year, academically, I was out in left field. I think ‘Buddy on the Farm’ was my highest reading level,” he says, chuckling. “In my first two years, if anybody was sick at school, they wondered if they had ‘Gross-itis.’ I was always finding a way to skip school.”
Eventually, several teachers inspired him to become more engaged.
“I look back with great fondness to Mrs. Cheek, who was not only my history teacher but also my greatest single motivator. She pushed me toward getting very serious in my studies.”
He enjoyed English teacher Tommy Van Arsdale as well. “Here was a Navy commander standing on a desk and spouting poetry,” Gross recalls. “It was just wonderful.”
Another favorite was Herb Mols, the guru of Park athletics during the mid-20th century and a 2013 inductee to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. “If he had 18 people on the baseball squad, all 18 people played,” Gross says.
Gross sums up his Park experience with one word: “opportunity.”
“It doesn't sound like much at first,” he says, “but we had opportunities to do everything. Whether it was Student Council, working on the newspaper, or playing on a team, we had encouragement. I’ve talked to other people from Park, all of whom were successful, and the word ‘opportunity’ resonates with each of us.”
After graduation, Gross entered Oberlin College. “I was shocked,” he says. “I had earned only one ‘A’ at Park, an A-minus in one of Herb Mols’ science classes. I’d really started to work hard in my junior and senior years… and I was getting A’s at Oberlin! We came to college prepared.”
During Gross’ second year, his father, who owned a millinery company that was, at the time, the second largest manufacturer of women’s hats in the country, fell ill and Gross came home to help. Gross transferred to the University at Buffalo, where he intended to study for one semester before returning to Oberlin. He ended up staying at UB, where he became enamored with the history and government faculties, as well as the college’s small class sizes. He briefly considered a career in diplomacy, but a conversation with his father steered him in another direction: law school. The family business was paying high fees for legal work. If Gordon enrolled in law school for one year, his dad said, he could learn enough to save the family a small fortune. Gross was accepted to UB Law School, and stayed all three years.
“I liked it,” he says. “I did very well.”
After a two-year stint in the Army, Gross embarked on his legal career, opening a practice with Irv Shuman. The firm came to specialize in corporate, real estate, and securities law.
One of Gross’ passions is cycling. His brother, Alan, encouraged him to take up the sport and they enjoyed riding together before Alan became ill with cancer.“Alan was my ‘hero,’” says Gross. “He was an avid cycler and got me into it. We rode two ‘centuries’ (100-mile rides) together; I’ve done four altogether.”
Alan Gross was a dentist who taught at UB’s School of Dental Medicine. Shortly before Alan passed away, Gordon and his wife, Gretchen, organized a memorial fund in Alan’s name at the dental school and set up a foundation that benefited financially from Gordon’s cross-country ride in 2000. The ride took 7½ weeks. “I enjoyed it so much – I came back to the office and said to myself, ‘you know, I’m 69 years old and it’s probably time to retire,’” he says. He cut down his workday to mornings only, but soon realized he wanted more time off.
Gross’s passion for cycling has helped Roswell Park Cancer Institute as well. The Ride for Roswell started in 1996 and Gross has raised a total of $233,945 and is the top fundraiser overall.
Gross has maintained close ties to Park, including his role on the board of the Park School of Buffalo Foundation and a member of the Science@Park Centennial Capital Campaign Committee. Two grandsons have graduated from Park as well, Kyle ‘04 and Jordan Weiner ’04. Daughter Debra also attended the School.
“The Board, obviously, and Chris Lauricella in particular, have a great vision for the school,” he says. “They’ve got the right ideas. They really are looking to the future and looking at what the needs are. It’s exciting to see enrollment growing!”
Gross feels he owes a lot of his own progress to his formative years at the School.
“Whether I was playing baseball, working on Spark, or serving on the Student Council – it really built my self-confidence,” he says. “I always come back to that word ‘opportunity.’ There were all sorts of things that gave us opportunities. It was never, ‘Oh that’s nice, look what they’re doing for us.’ They involved the students in every phase of the School.”
The Grosses established an endowed scholarship fund at Park to support students with financial need. “I feel it is my duty, and that of others who benefited from a Park education, to give back so that more of today’s young people can have the same wonderful opportunity.”