Goodbye to a dear friend

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

The admirer of Alexander the Great is gone.

Steve Stavro, a dear friend, died Sunday night of a heart attack at 78.

He was, for half a century, almost like a family member to me. He was always there when I needed him, and I was there for him when he needed my support, which wasn't very often.

I last saw him Saturday morning at breakfast. It was a custom over the years that we met at the Sweet Gallery along with owner Radi Jelenic and friends such as George Chuvalo, ex-Maple Leafs Peter Zezel and Mark Osborne, Lou Janetta of Royal York fame, Dennis Moir and Myros Trutiak, the man whose company -- MST Bronze Ltd -- built the 7-metre sculpture of Alexander the Great at Mount Pleasant cemetery, which will be Steve Stavro's resting place in the family plot.

Our friendship began on a rather strange note when he started kicking my ankles in a soccer game. Later we had coffee at a nearby cafe and somehow we hit it off. We both loved hockey and we both enjoyed soccer. So much so that in 1961 we formed the Toronto City Soccer Club and joined the late senator, Peter Bosa, in forming the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League.

Steve thought that in order to attract soccer fans we'd have to put a good product on the field. So, the late Eddie Fitkin, a former CBC telecaster, and I went off to Britain to find soccer stars.

Without going into details, we signed Johnny Haynes, the captain of England, Tommy Younger, the captain of Scotland, and Dany Blanchflower, the captain of Northern Ireland, along with Sir Stanley Matthews, Scottish World Cup ace Jackie Mudie, England "B" sweeper Roy Gratrix and Arsenal goalie Barry Smart.

Steve Stavro loved that team. Not only for winning the league and the cup, but for the players' gentlemanly conduct. Small wonder that we filled Varsity Stadium and beat such teams as French champion Reims and Greek champion AEK Athens.

If soccer and horse racing made his eyes sparkle, so did the Maple Leafs. I recall a phone call from the late Harold Ballard, asking me if I thought it would be a good move to make Steve a director of the Leafs. I told him that he could do worse.

And when Steve took over the reins of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., things changed for the better. As Paul Perantinos, former secretary of the board of directors of MLSEL said: "Steve brought class to the organization."

One could write thousands of words about the generous heart of Steve Stavro, and his support of every possible charity and cause that needed his assistance.

While loving all sports, the focus of his life was his family -- wife Sally, daughters Elaine, Connie, Debbie and Stefanie, his sons-in-law and grandchildren. He couldn't do enough for them.

Our sincere sympathies to the entire Stavro family. Good men such as Steve Stavro don't pass often by this world. I'll miss him badly and Saturday morning will never be the same without the chairman at the Sweet Gallery in Etobicoke.


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