In Memoriam

Dr. Kevin W. Lanighan, ’82, Shares Stories of His Dad, Dr. Matthew Lanighan, ’56

My Dad graduated from Niagara in 1956. He grew up in Lockport, the oldest of three children and the first in his family with aspirations to seek a four-year degree. Molded by The Great Depression and World War II, he attended DeSales Catholic High School in Lockport, where he played football. Nothing was handed to him, and he worked when he could in high school for a local dairy as a delivery man and later at an ice cream shop.

Catholic University was actually his first choice, but the job he was promised in Washington went to someone else and he couldn’t afford to go. Having already missed the application deadlines, he drove to Niagara hoping to talk with someone. A priest in residence was sitting on the stairs and my Dad told him his story. This man it turned out was the Dean of Students and he helped my Dad through admissions. My Dad was grateful for this opportunity. It seemed somehow representative of Niagara, and the caring community he grew so fond of over the next several years.

Dad went to college wondering how he would manage to pay the next semester bill. He often told me stories of waking up early at home in Lockport to go to “unload the mail train” before going to classes during the day. In the afternoon he would deliver mail when he could and he worked for the post office in the summers. Although my Dad was a smart guy who later earned his Ph.D. from U.B. and retired as director of the Erie Country Public Health Laboratories, he often struggled with his school work as he juggled work and tuition bills.

My father was an avid stamp and coin collector and on one occasion actually had to use some of his prized collected silver dollars to pay his tuition bill! Would you believe that a priest, realizing what had happened, saved those silver dollars and sold them back to my father, allowing him to keep his collection together! These things do not happen at most colleges. Niagara was a special place for my father.

Although the opportunity to get an education and to be the first in his family to earn a four-year degree would seem enough to keep him a loyal Purple Eagle, this was not what really made Niagara special to my father. In his last year, while a senior, he met a pretty young freshman nursing student. Her name was Patricia “Paddy” Smith. I call her Mom. He managed to keep her interest over the next few years while he served his county, joining the U.S. Navy upon his graduation with a B.S. in chemistry in 1956. After Officer Candidate School, he served as an officer aboard a radar picket ship, the U.S.S. Lookout. Paddy completed her nursing degree and after she graduated in May, they were married on June 13, 1959.

A year later I came along, a firstborn son, to grow up admiring a man who taught me what is right and the meaning of faith. I saw firsthand what a successful marriage was about, the value of family and the strong sense of giving back to a community you belonged in.

Over the years my father told me many things. He would say “Kevin – when I was young my father told me that there will always be someone better looking, smarter, and with more money ... I just didn’t know there would be so many of them!” I also remember he said “Kevin – my father told me I could marry any woman I pleased … I just couldn’t seem to please any of them!” My young life was filled with this kind of wisdom.

An active volunteer his whole life, he was a youth baseball coach, science fair judge, church school teacher and an active scout leader. Since retiring, “Dr. Matt” gave his time to many groups, including¬ The Dale Association, where he served as chairman of the board. Matt is also past president of the St. John's Parish Council, where he was one of the original writers of their charter. In addition to being active with the food pantry, he was a financial advisor for the St. Vincent De Paul Society and served as secretary.

In 2001 he was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award “given to honor seniors who make outstanding contributions to the lives of others,” and in 2007, he was presented with the Bette Dale Award for “commitment to the older adult community.” He enjoyed serving as a member of the Niagara County Soil and Water Board and the Niagara County Genealogy Society Board, and was a member of the City of Lockport Fire Board. Dad rarely missed his grandkids’ concerts or sporting events and traveled overseas extensively with my Mom. A man of many interests, he was an avid reader, bridge player, boogie boarder and wood carver in his later years.

My Dad died this summer on Aug.19, 2011. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma several years ago and we have watched him fight and struggle over the years. Always with a sense of humor, he accepted the humility that chronic illness brings. On the morning of the day he died, he asked to say the Hail Mary and Our Father and we called Father Joe. Ultimately he told those in the room “I love you” and he closed his eyes and he was gone. In one last act of service he donated his remains to the U.B. Anatomical Gift Program for medical studies. He will be missed by his family, friends and community –– we will have to work hard to match his enthusiasm for life, faith in God, support of family and service to his fellow man. I will miss you Dad.