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Robert A. Mendez -- Nov. 21, 2018

Growing up in Lackawanna, Robert A. Mendez was easily accepted into an older cohort in the mid-1970s at Lackawanna High School. He was driven to succeed.

So it wasn't a shock to those who knew him that Mr. Mendez, while still in his 20s, was tapped by Lackawanna's mayor to serve as executive director of the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority. Mr. Mendez served at the housing authority from 1984 to 1990.

Mr. Mendez went on to become one of the youngest appointed and longest-serving executive directors of the Erie County Water Authority. He died Tuesday in his Lackawanna home from cancer. He was 61.

Thomas Mendez described his brother as exceedingly mature and a go-getter from an early age.

"Bobby was always an overachiever, even when he was young," Thomas Mendez said.

"In high school, all of his friends were usually a year or two older and he grew up quick. He was driven even as a teenager. He did a lot of volunteer work in the Lackawanna area," he said.

In 1990, then-Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski appointed Mr. Mendez, 32 at the time, to head the Erie County Department of Senior Services. His reputation for efficiency and sensitivity to the needs of public housing residents made him an excellent choice to head the county's senior programs, Gorski said at the time.

As a commissioner for the county, Mr. Mendez oversaw a department with a $13.3 million annual budget in 1990, which included a variety of transportation and nutritional programs for the elderly.

"Bob was a very dedicated public servant," Gorski recalled of his former appointee. "He came from Lackawanna, and you've got to be tough from Lackawanna."

Gorski added, "He was in the Lackawanna Housing Authority, where he was the executive director, commissioner of senior services and director of the Water Authority, proof positive of his commitment to public life, and also his strong character in carrying out what he thought was best."

Mr. Mendez was appointed to lead the Erie County Water Authority in 1996. During his tenure, the authority expanded its reach, incorporating many smaller municipal water operations.

The authority also came under public scrutiny at various points during his leadership because of the vital service it provides to so many residents. During the October snowstorm of 2006, for example, more than half a million suburban residents experienced problems with their water service because the agency had not installed generators at its treatment plant. In the months that followed, a better emergency plan was put into place.

Mr. Mendez retired from the Erie County Water Authority in 2013.

A graduate of Lackawanna High School, Robert Mendez earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial administration from General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich. Prior to heading the housing authority, Mr. Mendez served as minority enterprise officer for the City of Lackawanna. He also worked briefly as public information officer and sewer projects coordinator for Lackawanna Mayor Thomas Radich. Prior to that, he worked in engineering and supervision at the Chevrolet Tonawanda plant.

During his time with housing authority, Mr. Mendez secured a nearly $5 million federal grant for construction of the seven-story, 94-unit Parkview Tower low-income senior housing development at 600 Ridge Road.

His brother, Thomas, said Robert Mendez also developed a passion for golf.

He loved to golf. He became a golfer as he got older," said Thomas Mendez.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, the former Barbara A. Skipper; son, Sean; daughter, Kathryn; mother, Patricia; brothers, Brian, Thomas, Paul and Peter; and sister, Kerri Miller.

Prayers will be said at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Lombardo Funeral Home, 3060 Abbott Road, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Victory Basilica, 767 Ridge Road, Lackawanna.