Gordon in the News: last updated 01/03/2012

Remembering Stephen Tavilla, Business Leader and Benefactor

Claire and Stephen Tavilla

Gordon supporter and former Trustee Stephen Tavilla passed away on Sunday, January 1. Mr. Tavilla was an accomplished business leader and a deeply committed Christ-follower. He and his wife, Claire, provided invaluable support to Gordon over many years, including the naming gift for Tavilla Hall, which opened in 1998. Gordon bestowed upon Steve an honorary doctorate several years ago, and the College is home to the Steve and Claire Tavilla Scholarship Fund.

Paul Borthwick, faculty member at Gordon, said of Mr. Tavilla: “We begin 2012 on a sad but joyful note as we lost a friend and mentor in the person of Steve Tavilla. He was 87 and lived—in biblical language—‘a long life and full of years.’ He is survived by his beloved wife of 64 years, Claire, plus four children, eleven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren—plus hundreds of people like us who were blessed by his wisdom and his generous spirit. I am honored that Steve asked me to preach at his funeral service.”

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting memorial gifts to be made to Steve’s namesake scholarship fund at Gordon.

Below is the full obituary: 

BEDFORD—Stephen Tavilla, 87, formerly of Lexington, died peacefully Sunday, January 1, in his home in Bedford, surrounded by family.

As the oldest son in a large family, Steve left school after the 8th grade to help his father run the family business in Boston, providing fresh produce to numerous grocery store chains, restaurants, purveyors and produce retailers. Steve and his six brothers eventually built the P. Tavilla Company into one of the largest wholesale produce distributors in New England, a success story that served for many years as a case study at the Harvard Business School.

Steve and his brothers owned a wide range of other businesses as well, including produce sales companies in California, a potato farm in Maine, a 50+ vehicle trucking firm, a retail produce business, and a tomato farm and large tomato processing and packing operation in Naples, Florida.

Given his broad and deep experience in all phases of the produce business, Steve was tapped by President Reagan to serve on Presidential Task Forces to several South and Central American nations, advising them on how to improve their infrastructure for getting fresh produce from the farm to the table, thereby substantially lowering spoilage rates which at the time routinely approached 75%.

Known as the “Pied Piper of Faneuil Hall”, Steve masterminded and orchestrated the move of all of the wholesale produce dealers out of the venerable location to allow its redevelopment into the vibrant retail and office center that is Faneuil Hall Marketplace today.

Steve’s design of the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, Massachusetts, done on a napkin over dinner, was based on the best ideas he and his committee found touring other successful terminals in major cities across the US. From an initial investment of $2,500 per bay, the dealers would, within 20 years, be able to sell their spaces for over 100 times that price. Owners of other major city produce centers would come to Steve for his insights in designing their own.

The experience he had with this successful real estate venture led Steve to his second career in real estate, including the purchase of the wholesale produce centers for the cities of Miami and Houston which his family owns to this day. That interest in real estate also led to the purchase and development of a multi-use park in Acton, Massachusetts, consisting of 70+ office, retail and restaurant tenants.

Steve, with his family, was also involved with the development of a 1,000-unit residential project in Naples, Florida, known as the Strand, which includes 27 holes of golf, a fitness center, and wedding/ function business.

A natural expression of his deep faith, Steve enjoyed numerous non-profit roles, including serving as Trustee at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he received an honorary doctorate, and where he and his family donated funds toward a namesake dormitory. Steve also served on the Board of Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, Massachusetts, and on the building committee of Grace Chapel, also in Lexington, overseeing construction of the present 1,500-seat sanctuary.

While quietly supporting numerous missions and individuals in Christian service, Steve and his brothers helped found New England Teen Challenge, a group with a remarkable track record changing the lives of young people contending with drug and alcohol addictions. Steve also founded and served on the board of the Association of Church Mission Committees, a clearinghouse of information on various world mission organizations.

Steve also served for 14 years on the board of City Bank of Boston, and for 14 years on the board of U S Trust, Boston, which acquired City Bank. In addition, Steve was on the finance committee of the successful gubernatorial campaign of Endicott “Chubb” Peabody, the 62nd Governor of Massachusetts.

Despite his many commitments, family was always a high priority for Steve. He was actively involved in the lives of his children and grandchildren and never missed significant milestone occasions in their lives. He always looked for opportunities to gather his extended family together and whenever a family member was ailing he was usually the first to go visit and one of the last to leave.

Steve is survived by Claire, his wife of 64 years, son Paul Tavilla and his wife Ann of San Antonio, TX, daughter Stephanie and her husband Joseph Calareso of Coral Springs, FL, daughter Linda Ware and her husband Kirk of Westford, MA and daughter Cynthia of Lowell, MA, 11 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

Calling hours are 4-8 pm Friday, January, 6, 2012 at the Douglass Funeral Home, 51 Worthen Road, Lexington, MA and the Memorial Service on Saturday, January 7, 2012 at Grace Chapel, 59 Worthen Road, Lexington at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Stephen and Claire Tavilla Scholarship Fund, Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Road, Wenham, MA 01984.