Dianne BennettRead More "Happy to Be Here"
“Not quite ready” to give up on her adopted city

By Lisa Kane

Dianne Bennett
Dianne Bennett.
Photo by Jim Bush.
Dianne Bennett would have accomplished great things in any location, but since 1978, she’s been doing that from her home base in Buffalo.

Bennett moved here (with her husband, William Graebner, a nationally recognized U.S. history scholar) after commuting from Fredonia for years. In July 2004, Bennett retired as chair of Hodgson Russ, the first woman to manage one of the United States’ 200 largest law firms. Here’s a brief look at who she is, how she got here, and what she thinks needs to change.

Where were you and your husband before Buffalo?

I grew up in Seattle and Bill came from Chicago. We met while we were at Stanford University at an exchange program in Italy, then both went to graduate school at the University of Illinois. In January 1971, Bill took a teaching position at SUNY College at Fredonia. In April—pregnant with our first son—I followed him to Fredonia, and in July Bennett Graebner was born.

I started law school at the University at Buffalo the following year. It wasn’t easy commuting fifty miles through a snow belt, but most everyone at UB was understanding.

I was able to get my law degree in three years, in large part because Bill is truly a co-parent.

Interviewing at Hodgson Russ with Donald Lubick, now a retired partner, I asked if my living fifty-seven miles away would be an issue. He said, “I don’t care how you do it, as long as you do it.”

At Hodgson Russ, I commuted from Fredonia until 1976, when we went to Washington, D.C. for two years. Bill got a grant to do research and wanted to be near the Library of Congress. With the help of Don Lubick, who is former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, I got the best tax job in the world, working for the Joint Committee on Taxation. Then I got a job as a lawyer with the Office of Tax Policy in the Treasury Department, working for President Carter. In 1978 Bill went back to teaching and we decided to move to Buffalo.

Why Buffalo?

For a two-career family, it was the best location. This is where our second son, Riley Graebner, was born in 1980, and I went back to practicing at Hodgson Russ.

How do you feel about Buffalo?

I think I’m pro-Buffalo. It’s a fabulous city to live in as far as quality of life, a great place to raise kids. There’s an openness to the city, an accessibility. My kids are now in urban centers, and they’re very comfortable there. I think that’s because they grew up here.

And the down side?

The politics here are so lousy. The bureaucratic systems are so bad that you just get depressed. Business people don’t exercise the clout they have. The same people keep getting called on to do the same things. There’s no new blood.

On the plus side, if you’re community minded, there is a lot you can do. I was asked to help with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Erie County Stabilization Project, working on the committee’s Plan for Moving On. I think it was the perfect project for the Partnership to do for the community.

I’m an upbeat person, and I don’t like being depressed about my community. Seattle and Buffalo were in similar situations when I left, and now they’re yin and yang. I’m not ready to give up on my city, but sometime I feel like I should be.

Lisa Kane is a freelance writer living in Buffalo.


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