BUSINESS

A LEGACY OF TURMOIL

HAROLD BALLARD WILLED BENEFITS TO CHARITY BUT LEFT THE FUTURE OF HIS HOCKEY EMPIRE IN DOUBT

PATRICIA CHISHOLM April 30 1990
BUSINESS

A LEGACY OF TURMOIL

HAROLD BALLARD WILLED BENEFITS TO CHARITY BUT LEFT THE FUTURE OF HIS HOCKEY EMPIRE IN DOUBT

PATRICIA CHISHOLM April 30 1990

A LEGACY OF TURMOIL

BUSINESS

HAROLD BALLARD WILLED BENEFITS TO CHARITY BUT LEFT THE FUTURE OF HIS HOCKEY EMPIRE IN DOUBT

After the tumultuous final months of a boisterous life, Harold Ballard went to his final resting place in an atmosphere of unaccustomed dignity. Last week, the hockey tycoon was buried next to his wife, Dorothy, in Park Lawn Cemetery in Toronto’s west end under the protective cover of a dark tent for privacy and in case of rain. Curious reporters and photographers were kept at bay by fences and security guards while Ballard’s three children and a few close friends mourned his passing on April 11, at the age of 86. But the disposition of Ballard’s wealth in a will made public the following day provoked controversy. The children, said William (Bill) Ballard, all are “very proud of what he did” in leaving the bulk of his estimated $50million estate to charity. He also left $50,000 a year to his companion of eight years, Yolanda Ballard, until she dies or remarries. But Yolanda Ballard’s lawyer served notice that she will seek a larger settlement. Bill Ballard said that he will pursue a claim to more shares in the holding company through which his father controlled Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. And the will left questions about the future of the Gardens and its National Hockey League franchise.

The Ballard money and control of the Maple Leafs have been the focus of legal disputes and controversy for years. Now, although Ballard’s children, Mary Elizabeth Flynn, 47, Bill,

43, and Harold Ballard Jr., 42, say that they are happy with the will’s provisions, Yolanda Ballard is not. Her lawyer, Patrick Schmidt, said that she will soon back her claim for larger support payments with a lawsuit. Bill Ballard’s claim is already contained in a lawsuit that he launched last year against his brother and his father over Harold Jr.’s sale in June, 1989, of a block of stock in Harold E. Ballard Ltd.

(heb)—the holding company that, in turn, owns 80 per cent of the shares in the Gardens—to his father.

Ballard left his shares in HEB to a charitable foundation to be established under his will. For now, the Gardens and the Maple Leafs will continue to

be run by the Gardens’ current directors. Three of them—Donald Giffin, Steven Stavro and Donald Crump—are Ballard friends who are executors of his will and also trustees of the charitable trust. Ballard’s chosen eight charities were not named publicly, but Gardens lawyer Rosarme Rocchi said that they are “similiar” to his favorite charities, which include foundations for the treatment of cancer

and the care of crippled children. The charities will be entitled to profits from the Gardens. But under the Charitable Gifts Act, the assets of all such trusts in Ontario must be sold within seven years, with all proceeds of the sale going to the designated charities. That is expected to generate a high-stakes bidding war, with such companies as brewing giants Molson Cos. Ltd. and John Labatt Ltd. among possible bidders for control of one of the most profitable NHL franchises.

But if Ballard’s death has failed to quell family disputes, it has brought new life to Maple Leaf Gardens. During the 18 years that Ballard controlled every aspect of business at the Gardens, he was frequently criticized for allowing both the building and the hockey team to slide into mediocrity. For years, vital systems such as the building’s air conditioning routinely broke down, and services such as food franchises were badly strained. But fans were even more rankled by the ignominious performance of the Leafs. Under Ballard’s stormy leadership, they slid from being a frequent Stanley Cup contender to become a demoralized, losing team, undermined by Ballard’s penchant for firing coach after coach and alienating such popular star players as Lanny MacDonald, Darryl Sittler and Rick Vaive.

Control of the team and the Gardens may turn on the lawsuit that Bill Ballard has

launched against the Gardens, his father and his brother over the sale of Harold Jr.’s onethird share of the stock in HEB. Bill Ballard already owns one-third of the shares and has alleged that both his brother and his father violated an agreement that gave him the right of first refusal on Harold Jr.’s shares, which prevented him from acquiring control of the Gardens last year. If Bill Ballard wins, he could wrest controlling interest in the Gardens back from the charities. But Rocchi disputed that,

saying that even if Bill Ballard _

wins the suit, control of the Gardens would not necessarily pass to him. Ballard says that he hopes to be able to resolve the issue out of court.

The Gardens trustees must also grapple with a possible bid for part of the Gardens by Molson Cos. Ltd., which has the right to purchase 19.9 per cent of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. The option must be exercised within 30 days after Oct. 31,1990, and would cost Molson’s only $10,000, compared with a market value for the shares of about $25 million. The company has a further right of first refusal on an additional 50.75 per cent of the Gardens stock. Molson’s received the options in return for loaning Ballard $8.8 million in 1980 to help pay interest on a bank loan.

In the meantime, Yolanda Ballard is seeking a larger settlement on the grounds that she is effectively Ballard’s widow. The 57-yearold stocky blond divorcée became a tenacious presence in Ballard’s life after she first arrived on his doorstep in 1982. Her desire to be treated as Ballard’s legal wife was so great that, in 1988, she changed her last name from MacMillan to Ballard and began habitually to refer to Ballard as her husband. The marriage never took place, but Schmidt said that Ballard’s legacy to Yolanda clearly demonstrated his intention to treat her as his spouse.

Ballard’s death also failed to stamp out a series of rancorous, sometimes bizarre ^.disputes between Yolanda and Ballard’s children. Yoolanda is currently suing Bill

Ballard for $1 million for assault, following a 1988 incident in Ballard’s Gardens office. Meanwhile, she must also defend a $5-million suit for defamation recently launched against her by Ballard’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Flynn. The suit followed a lengthy interview given by Yolanda to a Toronto radio station in Febuary. Not even the family funeral was capable of cooling tensions. Yolanda was pointedly barred from the funeral and the burial ceremony. But she visited the grave afterwards with 18-year-old Denise Banks, whom Yolanda and Ballard befriended, and with the

_ white shaggy dog named T.

C. Puck that was a gift to Ballard from Yolanda.

Meanwhile, the remaining questions hanging over the Gardens’ future have helped push Gardens stock down by almost 16 per cent since Ballard’s death. But observers such as Donald Giffin say that the stock was manipulated by speculators before Ballard’s death and that now investors are “standing back to see how the dust will settle.” That is a situation that Ballard himself would probably have enjoyed. With his knack for unsettling his critics and surprising his friends, Harold Ballard’s legacy is likely to be a continuation of

the uncertainty and turmoil that he created during his lifetime.

PATRICIA CHISHOLM