(Oct. 21, 2022) One of the Tampa Bay area’s top educational philanthropists, Gus Stavros, died Oct. 18. He was 97.
Stavros was part of that “greatest generation” of entrepreneurial business builders and givers, with a willingness to share his wealth and wisdom.
The elder statesman-philanthropist dedicated his energy to education, from K-12 up to various Florida state universities. He might be best known for helping establish what is now Largo’s Gus Stavros Institute, home to Enterprise Village, Finance Park and other economic education programs that thousands of students participate in every year.
He also served on the State University System Board of Governors, which sets policy for universities and is among the most prestigious appointments in state government.
He once said his ultimate goal was to give away most of his money and die poor.
He was born in poverty in New Jersey to immigrant parents from Crete, Greece, who opened the Twin Diner in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in World War II, suffering a head wound at age 19 on the European front. He was educated at Columbia University.
He married Frances Shaw in 1948 a decade before moving to Pinellas County. Stavros often attributed his charitable work to his wife, who died in 2017 at the age of 92. She was the one who encouraged him to give time and money to educational causes, he said.
He started a company called Better Business Forms after they moved to Pinellas County in 1958. He built the Pinellas Park business up to 500 employees, and sold it in 1984 for millions.
“Gus is literally giving away his fortune while he is alive and that’s an admirable way to do it,” businessman Craig Sher said in 2012.
Stavros helped establish the Pinellas Education Foundation, so he was a natural fit to lead the initial fundraising campaign for Enterprise Village. He raised $1.2 million, which was enough to build the Largo facility. It opened in 1989 and was an immediate success.
“The most important thing I find is that you must be involved,” Stavros said in 2012 to the Tampa Bay Times. “And be involved with young people and education. Nothing is more important than education. I learned that a long time ago because my parents, who had little education, convinced me to go as far as I can.”