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Larger than life figure succumbs to cancer

Kelowna’s legendary Herb Capozzi succumbed in his battle with cancer Monday, but his life’s work will continue to shape B.C. culture for years to come.

“He did so many things, and I’m his biggest cheerleader, but I think he’d most like to be remembered for being a good person, and his handshake,” said Alix, his wife of 20 years, from the Kelowna home they shared.

“If he shook your hand the deal was done, and he was always very proud of that.”

Over the course of his life Capozzi, 86, closed many deals that ultimately set the gold standard for B.C.’s sporting and business community—and he did it with a well documented panache.

Arguably most well known for his dynamic personality, Capozzi was also the GM of the B.C. Lions from 1957-66 and built the team to 1964 Grey Cup champions.

The Order of B.C. recipient also co-founded the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer franchise in 1973 and The Keg restaurant chain years later.

“You know, people haven’t really gotten into this too much…but he’s also the reason the Canucks are in B.C.,” said Alix.

“He invested in the Vancouver Canucks, because they were up for sale. A U.S. company wanted to buy them, but he stopped that and changed the course of hockey history.”

His long list of accomplishments were well known and revered by many, but Alix said it never put him off track.

“People would line up to shake his hand or talk to him but he never had a swollen head about it,” she said. “I think it was because of his upbringing.”

Born in Kelowna to a Swiss mother and an Italian father—who developed Capri Hotel and mall and founded Calona wines—Capozzi was shaped by strict Catholic parenting.

“He was brought up in the church and it was part of him,” said Alix.

“And he didn’t think a lot about what he’s done but what he could do next.”

That “what’s next” attitude is what led him out of Kelowna, and into the world.

After high school, Capozzi attended the university of Perugia in Italy, and travelled around Europe.

He documented those journeys, and sent reports back to Kelowna where they were printed in the local newspaper.

“He was a great writer,” said Alix. “He was really proud of that, too.”

Those columns laid out early adventures and a way of life foreign to many who made this valley home.

The articles were so well enjoyed that they became a staple to at least one local family that went out of their way to collect them in a book and, ultimately, return them to Capozzi decades later.

“The family would read them together when they came out on Sunday’s, they said,” recalled Alix. “He was so touched by that.”

After those travels Capozzi went on to a successful career in the CFL, and was even drafted to the NFL by the New York Giants, although he never attempted to make the team down south.

It was a sky’s the limit type life, but Kelowna was never far from his heart.

“That’s why we came home 10 years ago,” said Alix, noting that they rationalized the move from Vancouver as a decision to help run the family business.

They continued living life to the fullest; among other things Capozzi embarked on an annual polar bear swim in Vancouver’s English Bay, clad in a tux and he even went sky-diving to celebrate his 86th birthday.

It’s also when he battled tongue cancer, which recently returned in the form of the fatal lung cancer. Through the worst, however, he didn’t lose his sense of humour.

Over the years, Capozzi had a few health scares, and when news of his latest malady would circulate to the media, his  phone would start ringing off the hook.

“He loved that,” said Alix. “He would answer the calls and tell people, ‘The rumours of my death are highly exaggerated.’”

Knowing the rumours one day wouldn’t be so exaggerated, however, Herb had one last joke to make.

“He wanted me to put, ‘the rumours of my death are highly exaggerated’ on his tombstone…I haven’t decided if I will.”

Meantime, Capozzi’s funeral service will be held Saturday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m., in the St. Charles Garnier Parish.

 

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