Community leaders in Rochester who died in 2023

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester community lost social justice activists, religious leaders, trailblazers, coaches, and other leaders this year. Here are some of many people who died this year who are remembered for their impact on the community:

Rev. Lewis Stewart: The president emeritus of United Christian Leadership Ministry and lifelong advocate of social justice died at age 77 in October after a long illness.

Stewart co-founded UCLM in 2013 and served as its president until 2022. Under his leadership, UCLM advocated for body-worn cameras for RPD officers, civilian review of police misconduct, community programs to prevent gun violence, and other social justice reforms. Read more here.

Rev. Lewis Stewart

Sue Cowell: The advocate for Rochester’s LGBTQ community died in October at age 71. Cowell worked tirelessly to advance gay and lesbian civil rights, along with AIDS education and support, for over 40 years.

After receiving her Masters in Nursing, Cowell moved to Rochester in 1977 to work at the University of Rochester as a nurse practitioner. She saw a need and co-founded AIDS Rochester in 1983. Read more here.

Sue Cowell

Rosa Wims: The founder of the Rosa Wims Family Wellness Center and one of the first Black licensed nurses in Rochester died at age 100 in September.

She is remembered as a trailblazer for African Americans in the medical field and provided free Thanksgiving meals for up to 400 people at a time for over three decades. Read more here.

Rosa Wims

Coach Ed Nietopski: The longtime basketball and baseball coach for Rochester area schools died in March at age 95. Nietopski paced the sidelines for more than 40 years, leading teams at Brockport, Bishop Kearney, and Cardinal Mooney High School before it closed.

Before becoming a coach, Nietopski played shortstop for the Rochester Red Wings in 1950. In his career, he earned more than 700 wins as a baseball coach and more than 500 in basketball. Read more here.

Coach Ed Nietopski

Michael Gamilla: The local LGBTQ activist died in March after a battle with leukemia. Gamilla worked as a systems analyst and computer programmer but also had an artistic side.

He served as the program director for ImageOut, Rochester’s film festival for celebrating the LBGTQ community for 19 years. He also introduced the Flower City Flicks Competition, a program to help filmmakers to highlight the voices of LBGTQ people. Read more here.

Michael Gamilla

Rev. Franklin Florence: The civil rights pioneer who literally changed the face of Rochester and much of corporate America died at age 89 in February.

Following the Rochester riots of 1964, he led the organization F.I.G.H.T, which stands for Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today. He took on corporate giants like Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, and Kodak, forcing them to confront discrimination in their ranks. Read more here.

Rev. Franklin Florence

Bishop Matthew Clark: The longtime bishop at the Diocese of Rochester died at age 85 in January. He became of the youngest American Catholic bishops ever when he was consecrated at the War Memorial in 1979.

His accomplishments including signing a historic agreement with the Jewish rabbis in Rochester, the first one ever in the United States, in 1996. It changed the way Catholic institutions taught about Judaism and increased education about the holocaust in Catholic schools. Read more here.

Bishop Matthew Clark