by Mike Ulmer
October 4, 2006
"You've got to have ideas," Steve Stavro once said. "But more importantly, you've got to have the gift."
Steve Stavro had the gift in every endeavour he touched, from business to the world of sports and his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. The former chairman of the board of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment died of a heart attack April 23, 2006 at the age of 78.
Stavro's story is a shining example of Canada's glittering opportunities. He was born in Gabresh Macedonia (Northern Greece) in 1927, moved to Toronto when he was seven and began working at his father's butcher shop at Queen and Cornell. Soon, the store was converted into a grocery store and the family opened another outlet, this one on the Danforth.
Steve Stavro would grow the family business into Knob Hill Farms, a city-wide grocery chain. He oversaw every element of the business. Only when he was in his 70s would he give up inspecting incoming produce at 4 a.m.
Stavro loved soccer and used his newfound wealth to bring some of the game's best players to Toronto. His 1961 Toronto City team featured the great Stanley Matthews, Danny Blachflower, Jackie Mudie and Johnny Hayes.
Success at the racetrack was especially satisfying for Stavro who as a youngster worked parking cars at the old Woodbine in East Toronto.
His Knob Hill Stables produced a slew of winning thoroughbreds including Benburb, the 1992 Canadian horse of the year and 1999 Horse of the Year, Thornfield.
Stavro began an association with former Leafs owner Harold Ballard in 1981. Ten years later, he had accrued the necessary block of shares to guide the team.
The once downtrodden Maple Leafs prospered under Stavro. He made former Leafs welcome once again at Maple Leaf Gardens and reinvigorated the franchise with a renewed professionalism that resulted in three trips to the Eastern Conference finals.
In 1998, Stavro's added to his holdings with the acquisition of the Toronto Raptors and Air Canada Centre.
Stavro's stewardship of the Leafs and Raptors ended in 2003 but he remained a vital, committed fan.
In the end, Steve Stavro proved true to his word. He had ideas and he had the gift.