Former Maple Leafs chairman Stavro dies at 78

Updated: April 24, 2006, 6:21 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- Steve Stavro, the Canadian grocery store magnate whose sports holdings once included the Toronto Maple Leafs, has died. He was 78.

Toronto Sun corporate sports editor George Gross, a close friend, said Monday that Stavro died overnight of a heart attack.

Despite his high-profile role in the sports and business world, Stavro stayed out of the spotlight.

"He wasn't a newshound," Gross said. "He was a very charitable man. There wasn't a charity he didn't help out."

Stavro was a close friend of former Leafs owner Harold Ballard, who made him a director of the NHL team. Stavro acquired control of the Leafs in the early 1990s with the financial support of TD Bank and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

The NBA's Raptors and Air Canada Centre, home of the Leafs and Raptors, were subsequently added to the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment portfolio.

In 1991, he became chairman of the board of MLSE, a governor of the National Hockey League and chairman of the board of the Air Canada Centre. He remained president of Knob Hill Farms Ltd., his grocery chain.

With other interests squeezing him out, Stavro sold his share in Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment to Bell Globemedia in December 2003.

Born Sept, 27, 1927, in Gabresh, Macedonia, Stavro came to Canada as a child and worked in his father's grocery store. He went on to open his own grocery store, eventually expanding it into a chain of food terminals known as Knob Hill Farms.

In addition to hockey, Stavro was a huge supporter of soccer and was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame as a builder or the sport in 2005.

Stavro is survived by wife Sally and daughters Constance, Elaine, Deborah and Stephanie.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press