Anthony Villella

Anthony J. Villella

"May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back May the sunshine warm your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields.."

Obituary of Anthony J. Villella

Anthony J. Villella passed away November 21, 2020 in the care of Niagara Hospice House. Born on July 19, 1935 in Lockport, NY, he was the son of the late Joseph and Regina Villella.

Anthony attended DeSales Catholic High School and later studied at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He began his career with the Niagara County Sheriff's Department in 1961 as a jail deputy and was appointed to criminal investigator in 1966. He would go on to serve as a special narcotics investigator for District Attorney Charles J. Hannigan from 1967 to 1968. After a one-year tenure as Chief Criminal Investigator, Sheriff James Murphy named Anthony Villella as Undersheriff.

In 1970, he announced his candidacy for Sheriff. Facing the November challenge of Republican Sebastian Lombardi and Conservative William Szabo, he won election to the first of five terms as Niagara County Sheriff. In 1973, Anthony defeated Republican Richard Nelson. In 1976, 1979, and 1982 he ran unopposed.

Anthony helped secure state funding for a much-needed modernized communication system within the department. He spearheaded two major task forces to improve cooperation among police agencies within Niagara County: The Major Crime Strike Force and the Niagara County Drug Task Force. He also started the uniform crime reporting system, and the Niagara County Law Enforcement Training Academy, all of which still exist today.

Recognizing the importance of education, he fought for and implemented the toughest educational standards of any police agency in New York State. These guidelines, which eventually became county law, required a two-year associate's degree for the position of criminal deputy and a four-year bachelor's degree for juvenile investigators.

A believer in criminal reform, he started the first state program allowing prisoners to earn their GED diploma. Faced with a growing prisoner population, he implemented the first Work Release and Weekend Incarceration Programs. These two measures became major aides in alleviating overcrowded jail facilities.
He strongly believed in treating the inmates like human beings and by showing them compassion and a sense of family by allowing trustees to work in close proximity to his own family every day. It was important to him that he touched their lives in a way that they could bring back to society a sense of family, in hopes that this would somehow help them turn away from a life of crime. Well after he retired, he would walk down the street and someone would yell out, "Hey, Sheriff!", and it would be an old inmate, grateful for having someone who cared in their lives.

After he retired, he enjoyed playing golf with his beautiful wife, Eleanor, and his good friends, Dan Graney and Doug Rademaker.
His true passion was his wife and his family, if we needed him, he was there. He would say, "Family is everything!"

He is survived by his wife of 66 years Eleanor (Shaw) Villella; their six daughters, Rita Quirk, Judy (Gene) Newman, Jeanne (Augie) Sansone, Lynn (Doug) Menzel, Karen Villella, Nancy (Scott) Awender; as well as 20 grandchildren and their spouses; and six great-grandchildren. He was pre-deceased by his brother, Joseph and Paul (Mary) Villella; and survived by his sister, Carol (Mike) Cassenti; brother, Bill (late Linda) Villella; brother-in-law, Tom (Alice) Shaw; and sister-in-law, Nan (late-Chuck) Shaw.

The family has chosen to have private services but will be having a celebration of life when it is safe for all to attend. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to DeSales Catholic School or the Niagara Hospice House.  Arrangements by the Taylor & Reynolds Funeral Home, 70 Niagara Street.


  1. Pat Petrie on November 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Dear Ellie, Pat & Sharon Petrie offer prayers and condolences on the passing of Tony.

  2. Kevin Shanley on November 24, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Villella family. The Sheriff was and outstanding man and will be missed.

  3. jane haenle on November 29, 2020 at 4:26 am

    so sorry. Tony left so many accomplishments that have been very important to the law enforcement community in niagara county. i have fond memories of our early days of the gourmet club. He and Ellie raised a very close family of six daughters, a role model of caring parents. May God be with you in the these difficult days

  4. Terry and Pam Harmon on November 30, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Dear Villella family , Our heartfelt sympathy on your loss of the Sheriff . He was a great Man. I have special memories of him because of his connection to my father Chuck and brother Craig.. forever in my thoughts RIP 🌹Terry and Pam Harmon

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