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Who was James P.B. Duffy?

May 31, 2018

The Rochester City School Board is considering changing the name of School 12 to honor Frederick Douglass. But the school is already named after a famous Rochesterian – James P.B. Duffy.

James P.B. Duffy was born Nov. 25, 1878, in Rochester. He was one of nine kids – but that didn’t stop him from making his mark.

After Rochester Free Academy, Nazareth, Georgetown, and Harvard – Duffy went into private practice for 10 years, but quit when he inherited the family business, the Duffy-Powers Department Store at West Main and Fitzhugh.

Credit RochesterSubway.com

That went under in 1932. But by then, Duffy had been an active member of the Democratic Party for decades, serving as a member of the school board and then as a member of the New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

In 1934, he ran for Congress, and won. He was appointed to the New York Supreme Court in 1937. These were both short terms, but from there, Duffy reopened his private practice, and his political career fanned out over multiple areas of public service: He was founder and director of Family Services of Rochester, a trustee of the Chamber of Commerce, a counsel to the Red Cross, a commissioner of the Rochester Museum and much, much more. His Wikipedia page says he served on 10 different boards, was a member of nine clubs and brotherhoods, and that he was knighted by Pope Pius XI.

Duffy died at St. Anne’s home in Rochester in 1969 at the age of 90. He had no spouse or children, but was survived by a brother and nieces and nephews. Years later, Rochester public school number 12 was named in his honor.

In the main office, a description of Duffy reads: "His life truly personified each of the virtues he espoused: faith, hope, charity, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. He once said, 'There is nothing so persuasive or eloquent as example.' "

School Board President Van White says he hopes changing the name could help the school move on from the tragic loss of one of its students this year, Trevyan Rowe. White also says he has heard only one comment from a resident who feels changing the name might disrespect the memory of James P.B. Duffy.

Special thanks to the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County for help recovering newspaper clippings and general information.