Chamber Award for Lifetime Achievement: Marcia Tuohey
First woman to serve as Medina mayor and Legislature chairwoman, Tuohey also ran several businesses
MEDINA – When Fisher-Price left Medina about two decades ago, eliminating 700 jobs, Marcia Tuohey led the push for the community’s rebound.
She worked to establish a business park that would welcome new companies, including Trek, BMP America and American Sigma. She would later push to welcome Western New York Energy and its ethanol plant.
“When Fisher-Price closed she knew people had to step up for other industries,” said her son Craig Tuohey, a former director of the industrial development agency in Orleans County. “She was tireless.”
Tuohey was a trailblazing local leader. She was the first woman elected to serve as mayor of Medina, the first woman elected county legislator and the Legislature’s longest-serving chairwoman with 10 years as the county’s highest-ranking elected official.
She was 84 when she died at home on Aug. 7. The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce is recognizing her with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” on Saturday during the Chamber’s annual awards dinner.
Before she ran for public office, Tuohey ran many several business ventures, including a construction company and a mobile home park. She teamed with her twin sister Barbara Waters in some of the enterprises, including buying run-down homes, fixing them up and then reselling them.
They were active entrepreneurs beginning about 50 years ago, when it was very much a man’s world.
“She was fearless,” Craig said about his mother.
She doled out duties for her young sons, including mowing lawns and pulling weeds. When she operated the Colonial Inn, insisting on no baseball caps for staff and customers, Craig was assigned the manager.
“If you look sloppy, you act sloppy, and if you act sloppy, you think sloppy,” was one of her adages. Tuohey loved to sprinkle in sayings for the staff and her family.
“Don’t ever ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,” Craig said, quoting his mother.
Tuohey often brought up her days working summer jobs on the muck farms with her sister.
“No matter what you do, even if it’s pulling a weed, do the best job you can do,” was another saying.
Tuohey was the daughter of Frank J. Balcerzak, a respected building contractor who built hundreds of public buildings in WNY. Marcia, her sister and brother Bob would form a spinoff of the family construction business, Balcerzak Incorporated. They would use their company for several business ventures, including Orchard Manor Nursing Home.
Tuohey married a mechanical engineer, Carl “Gus” Tuohey.
“He was proud of mom and didn’t stand in her way,” said their son Carl.
His mother enjoyed business, but she reveled in politics, mainly because of the relationships and the satisfaction of completing projects.
She didn’t like “phony” people. She preferred people who could get the job done and stayed true to their word.
When women interested in running for elected office would ask her for advice, Tuohey often told them to never offer to make the coffee at a meeting. The women shouldn’t go about deferential roles, catering to the men, her son Carl said.
Tuohey shattered local stereotypes about what women can and should do for much of her adult life, whether running a construction company, serving as Medina mayor and then County Legislature chairwoman.
Even after she retired as Legislature leader eight years ago, Tuohey stayed a force in local affairs. She served on Medina’s Planning Board, and attended many village meetings, urging the Village Board to trim expenses. She also was the county’s representative on the board of directors for Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.
“It wasn’t about being in charge,” Craig said. “It was about doing things right.”