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Bar honors man who gave away a fortune

Friends say Gus Stavros knows how to make a pitch.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when Stavros looked to a crowd of Pinellas County's legal elite Friday and made a pitch for Enterprise Village, an economic-education center for Pinellas children.

Stavros encouraged the crowd of lawyers and judges to support the endeavor by buying $1,000 village "bricks." Of course, $100 donations also were being accepted.

"But knowing this esteemed group," he joked, "I recommend $1,000."

The 73-year-old can back up the talk with his own giving. Stavros has pledged to match up to $1-million in donations for the project. That comes in addition to the millions he and his wife, Frances, already have donated to Tampa Bay causes.

On Friday, the St. Petersburg Bar Association recognized Stavros' philanthropy and commitment to his community by awarding him its 34th annual Liberty Bell Award for outstanding community service.

Stavros "tirelessly devotes his entrepreneurial spirit," said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge John Lenderman, who presented the award. "He and his family highly value education. This is why he feels so strongly about strengthening the blessings of liberty for young people today and for succeeding generations."

Stavros is a World War II veteran who was wounded during Gen. George Patton's march on Berlin. When he returned to the United States, however, he couldn't find a job because of his partial paralysis.

"He was told to stay home and collect his disability pension," said Lenderman.

Stavros found a job with a New Jersey mattress factory, moving up the ranks of management. But what he really wanted was his own business.

So Stavros co-founded Better Business Forms Inc. in Pinellas County, starting with three employees. When he sold the company in the 1980s, it employed 550 people and posted annual sales of $90-million.

After the company's sale, the Stavroses began giving their fortune away.

Besides their donations to Enterprise Village, Stavros and his wife are major donors to the Florida Orchestra, the Museum of Fine Arts, Eckerd College, Florida State University and the United Way.

"The good Lord has been good to us," Stavros said after he accepted the award. "And you've been good to us."

The Bar also awarded Lenderman its annual Judicial Appreciation Award.