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Former Genesee Sheriff recalled as ‘good and decent man’

Apr 15th All Day

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W. Douglas Call, who died Sunday, praised for positive contributions

Calling Hours and Funeral arrangements noted below.


W. Douglas Call was a lot of things to a lot of people. A father. A husband. Someone who always stood up for what was right. He was a lawyer. A sheriff. A public safety director. Congressional candidate. Justice of the peace. What it really comes down to, though, is this: “He was, simply, a good and decent man,” said Dennis Wittman, a longtime friend of Call’s who together created the restorative justice system that is now known as Genesee Justice.

Call, former Genesee County sheriff and a town of Stafford justice for 20 years, died Sunday at the age of 73. Call had battled leukemia most of his life and died at home while under Hospice care. On Monday, those who knew him recalled the many positive ways in which Call made an impact on the community.“He was a person of vision and believed strongly in restorative justice,” said Gary Maha, who worked under Call and later replaced him as sheriff. “His main focus at the time was on jail population. He was a strong believer in alternatives to incarceration.”

Call was an assistant county attorney when the issue of the jail, specifically how large it should be, arose in 1980. Call argued that smaller was better and that taxpayers could not afford a new, larger jail. So he ran for sheriff, claiming that through something called “restorative justice,” jail populations could be kept under control. Though Call had no law enforcement experience, it was that platform, and his way with people, that earned him the victory over incumbent sheriff Roy Wullich. Call served for seven years and during that time his accomplishments drew national and worldwide attention. With former Family Court Judge Charles Graney, County Court Judge Glenn Morton and probation director Thomas Geles, Call wanted to transform the way justice was done in Genesee County. “There was a group of us trying to influence the county to be the leading edge of creating alternatives to incarceration — making offenders do something for us,” Call told The Daily News in 1994. The idea would be called Community Service/Victims Assistance program and Wittman was tapped the be its director. “The program, initially, was just community service as an alternative to incarceration but it soon expanded beyond that,” Wittman, who retired in 2005, said. “He showed great compassion, not only for the victims but the offenders. He was humane and caring.” The idea of sending criminals into the streets to do community service was novel and had its detractors, namely some in law enforcement and those sitting behind the bench. Call was called a “bleeding heart liberal” and his ideas were pegged for failure. “Doug had a way of going out and reaching people,” Maha said. “Magistrates were needed if the program was to work and he went out and persuaded them to use these tools. Rather than sentencing them to jail, use community service to hold them accountable, if the situation fit. It took awhile but now everyone is on board.” The program thrived.

Call and Wittman frequently spoke at seminars around the country and world, explaining how restorative justice worked and the benefits it had for the community. The program had its ups and downs but mainly it has remained true to what Call envisioned: Restore people’s faith in the system, attempt to rehabilitate those who have made mistakes and, ultimately, have faith in people. Genesee Justice, as it is now known, has expanded greatly since Call left office in 1987. It includes a Children’s Advocacy Center, DWI programs, substance abuse courts and community service/victims assistance programs. “He was the father, so to speak, of Genesee Justice,” Maha said. Call also was known for beginning sobriety checkpoints in Genesee County. “I believe he may have been the first in the state to use them,” Maha recalled. “One of my arrests went to the Court of Appeals and was upheld. It’s a case still cited today.”

Call abruptly resigned as sheriff in 1987. At the time no reasons were given but some said it was pure politics. Call had changed party affiliation. The Call family were staunch Republicans in a staunchly Republican county. “The only hassles he ever got involved in were politics,” Wittman said. “He switched to Democrat and that didn’t sit well with the party. They didn’t treat him fairly. I think that’s part of the reason he resigned. Then he battled party leaders when he ran for Congress.” Call twice ran for Congress, the first time against Fred Eckert after Barber Conable Jr. announced he was not seeking another term. Eckert, a Republican, defeated Call.

Call, however, revealed his good nature in the months that followed. He entered party headquarters in the town of Greece to thank those who supported and helped him during his campaign. This was nearly three months after the election. Problem was, it was GOP headquarters that he entered. “I kept looking for a familiar face,” he told The Greece Star News at the time. “I thought ‘My gosh, I’ve met with the Democratic committee a few times, but I didn’t recognize anyone.” He was asked to stay until Eckert arrived but Call declined. “I didn’t want him to feel ill at ease,” he said. “It was his turn to come thank them.” Call would make another unsuccessful run at Congress in 1992.

It wasn’t Call’s last dealings with Congress: He was honored by Congress in 2011 for his service to Genesee County. That, his friends say, was what Call was all about: Service to his community and fellow man. “As far as I’m concerned, he was one of the greatest guys who ever walked the earth,” said Brenda Mancuso, who served as Call’s clerk in the town of Stafford and with him for eight years as judge. “He was always helping anyone who had a problem.” Mancuso trained under Call when she became judge 10 years ago, looking to him for advice and following his lead. “He was very good with people,” she said. “He never made anyone feel bad and was always kind and never over-the-top like some judges when it came to sentencing. He really thought things out and never made rash decisions. He was a good, Christian judge, if there could be such a thing.” Mancuso said Call carried a poem in his wallet and often would take it out. It was about living life to the fullest. “That was him,” she said. “He taxed himself to the limit, no matter what he was facing. That was his thing.” Call retired from the bench in 2011, citing failing health.

Call was told he had leukemia in 1974 when he was still serving in the Air Force. “At that point ...It was quite a challenge,” he said in the 1994 interview. “It’s amazing when they tell you something like that how some things become very, very important and other things — like what you’re going to do with your life — just went away.” His condition stabilized but never quite did it go away entirely. Call, though, faced his adversity like he did his detractors when he was sheriff. “He lived through it and I never heard him complain,” Wittman said. “I never saw him say a cross word to anyone. He was a great Christian and a great person. He didn’t have vengeance as part of his life. “If there is a place in Heaven, I don’t know how many rungs up the ladder he is.”

NOTE:  CALLING HOURS FOR DOUG ARE ON THURSDAY FROM 4 TO 7 PM AT THE H.E TURNER FUNERAL HOME, 402 EAST MAIN STREET, BATAVIA.  THE FUNERAL IS ON SATURDAY AT 1:30 PM IN LEROY AT THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, CORNER OF MAIN STREET AND CLAY STREET.  OUR PRESIDENT REQUESTS THAT WE FOLLOW TRADITION AND MEET AT TEH CHURCH @ 1:20PM SO THAT MEMBERS OF THE GCBA CAN STAND AND SIT TOGETHER AS MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC ARRIVE.  PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO COME AND PAY TRIBUTE TO OUR COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND W. DOUGLAS CALL.