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James R. Dempsey “Moose”

January 22, 2022

Visitation: Privately held.
Service: Privately held. DEMPSEY – James R. “Moose”
September 5, 2020. Beloved husband
of 47 years to Mary (nee Reed); loving
father of Erin (Brian) Langley, Kate
(Graeme) Leiser, Molly (Terrence)
Miller and Scott (Kasandra Dassoulas)
Dempsey; dear grandfather of Matthew,
Maisie, Nora, Corinne, Chase, Bryce,
Olivia, Jack and James; brother of
Dennis (Marilyn), Ralph Dempsey, Mary
(John) Walker, Jean (Mike) Ruggeri,
Barbara (Scott) Pennino and the late
Bob Dempsey. Also survived by many
nieces, nephews, and loving friends.
Due to COVID restrictions, services
were held privately. A Celebration of
Moose’s life will be held at a later date.
Donations may be made in memory of
James Dempsey, to the Independent
Health Family Branch YMCA (www. or Say YES Buffalo
INC. Online condolences may be made
at March 22, 1948 – Sept. 5, 2020 When James R. Dempsey became principal of Grand Island High School in the middle of the fall semester in 1996, it had seen six principals in the previous four years and was notorious for food fights in the cafeteria. He wasted no time in laying down rules. “After I was here about a week, I asked how many students were late today,” he told Buffalo News reporter Charity Vogel in 1998. “And it was 97 students. That’s one-tenth of our student population.” He immediately imposed detention on all students who were tardy. In 1998, he said, fewer than 15 students a day were late for class. He also stopped suspending students for bad behavior and sending them home. Instead, he kept them in classes for two hours after the regular school day ended. Their attitudes and their grades improved. “Nothing replaces classroom instruction,” he told Vogel. “This is a chance for kids to stay in the ballgame.” Dr. Dempsey, who retired as principal in 2006, died unexpectedly Sept. 5 in Buffalo General Medical Center. He was 72. Born in Buffalo, the oldest of seven children, he grew up in Williamsville and attended SS. Peter and Paul School. He was a 1966 graduate of Bishop Neumann High School, where he played on the basketball and baseball teams and ran track and cross country. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history with teacher certification at Gannon College, now Gannon University, in Erie, Pa., and went on to complete his master’s degree at Canisius College and a doctorate in curriculum planning at the University at Buffalo. Before coming to Grand Island, Dr. Dempsey was principal at Cleveland Hill High School and an assistant principal at Kenmore West High School for four years. Previously, he had been a teacher at Gateway Youth Center, now Gateway Longview; an assistant principal for the Erie 1 BOCES Potter Road Occupational Center in West Seneca, and principal at the Erie 2 BOCES Wallace D. Ormsby Vocational Technical Center in East Aurora. After he retired from Grand Island, he accepted the post of director of academics at Sacred Heart Academy, which he held for five years. In 2013, he came back briefly to Grand Island as interim high school principal after the principal who succeeded him resigned to become school superintendent in Eden. He received a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 from the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. He was a former vice president of the Erie County School Principals Association. Nicknamed “Moose,” he coached football at Williamsville East High School in the 1970s and 1980s and more recently at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. He also coached basketball at Cardinal Dougherty High School and a variety of sports at Gateway Longview. He played adult fast pitch softball and was a baseball and softball umpire for many years. He was active as a student and alumnus with his college fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and was an avid Buffalo Bills and New York Yankees fan. He also enjoyed golfing, gardening and working out at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA. A music lover, he compiled countless editions of “Moose’s Greatest Hits.” He and the former Mary Reed were married in 1973. In retirement, they spent several months each year in Fort Myers, Fla. In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters, Erin Langley, Kate Leiser and Molly Miller; a son, Scott; two brothers, Dennis and Ralph; three sisters, Mary Walker, Jean Ruggeri and Barbara Pennino; and nine grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.


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