A Sudbury man who was regarded as a driving force in the development and eventual global reach of Northern Ontario's mining supply and services sector has died.
Community leaders across the North were saddened this week to learn of the death of Dick DeStefano. He was 85.
DeStefano was born in Sudbury on March 31, 1937. He attended St. Charles College in Sudbury and Scollard Hall in North Bay. He played quarterback in high school and modestly admitted to being “a reasonably competent hockey player.”
He is survived by his wife, Maureen, and his two sons, Joel and Devin.
DeStefano earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Western Ontario in London, a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from Waterloo University and a Masters in Education Administration degree from Michigan State University.
He began his teaching career in Elliot Lake, worked as a guidance counsellor at Garson-Falconbridge Secondary School then spent another 12 years as a guidance counsellor at Cambrian College in Sudbury.
After 20 years in education, DeStefano served as a commissioner with the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) from 1980 to 1985, the federal government regulatory agency overseeing Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications.
He also had his own consulting business providing economic diversification and community development services for municipalities across the country and spent a number of years pioneering distance education services and technologies for health-care professionals – both for the provincial government’s Ministry of Health and on his own.
Over the years, DeStefano was recognized for his contributions, including membership in the SAMSSA (the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association, (now called MineConnect) Hall of Fame.
Most recently DeStefano was recognized by Science North in Sudbury as an Honorary Life Member on March 25, 2022.
An extensive biography on DeStefano was written in 2019 by Norm Tollinsky, the founding editor of the Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal (SMSJ), on the occasion of DeStefano retiring from SAMSSA. DeStefano was a regular columnist for SMSJ.
The story goes that DeStefano had planned to retire in the early 2000s when Paul Reid, a business development officer with the Sudbury Regional Development Corporation, pitched him on developing the potential of the city’s mining supply and service companies.
“We’re trying to diversify the city and we’ve got this collection of companies in the city’s industrial parks that have no profile, no mandate and don’t know where they’re going,” DeStefano remembered Reid telling him.
“I was 65, but I was a workaholic and I loved building and developing things, so I took him up on the challenge,” he recalled.
“That first year, I had 56 one-on-one meetings with mining suppliers in the community. Most of them didn’t believe in the idea of working together to help build the industry. They wanted to know if joining an association would jeopardize their relationship with INCO and asked ‘Why would I want to export when I may not get paid?’”
Sixteen years later, SAMSSA had 140 members spread across Northern Ontario and a thriving concentration of more than 500 mining supply and service companies accounting for some 25,000 jobs — the association has evolved into a mining supply and service powerhouse serving the global mining industry.
Membership began to grow beyond the first half-dozen or so founding members, but dipped again in 2008 as a result of that year’s financial crisis and its impact on the mining industry.
“I took a major pay cut and we slashed our budget to continue operating because guys were dropping off,” he recalled. Fortunately, the economy recovered the following year and membership began climbing once again.
By 2019, SAMSSA provides a wide range of programs and services that help its members grow their business. It organizes trade missions to stimulate export business, operates quarterly export club networking events, hosts incoming delegations of mining companies and promotes its members to a global mining marketplace through its website.
In 2003, roughly eight per cent of the mining suppliers in Northern Ontario flirted with the export market, DeStefano told the Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal in 2019. By that year, between 25 and 35 per cent of suppliers are selling their products and services around the world and some have opened offices in places like Chile and Nevada, DeStefano said.
MineConnect's membership now stands at 230 members from across Northern Ontario.
The news of his death has saddened many of DeStefano's former colleagues.
"This is shocking," said former SAMSSA chair Tom Palangio, the retired president of WipWare Inc. in North Bay.
"I will dearly miss him and Sudbury has certainly lost a community leader and visionary," he said.
Reid, a close friend, said he will miss having chats with DeStefano.
"I have known Dick for close to 60 years and for over 40 years we were friends," said Reid. "I feel his loss deeply."
Reid said DeStefano should be remembered for his contributions to the community as a teacher, city councillor and as a member of the CRTC. But most importantly, Reid said, DeStefano should be remembered for the creation of SAMSSA, which raised the profile of the local mining supply and service sector. He put the spotlight on it and forced all levels of government to recognize its importance as a job and wealth creator.
He pushed SAMSSA members to diversify their client base and develop international markets," Reid said.
"I will miss visiting him, sitting in his sunroom talking about books he was reading, local history and our ongoing political discussions,” Reid said. “As we age, our circle of friends and acquaintances unfortunately gets smaller. I miss my friend but I will always remember him."
Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger remembered DeStefano as a citizen of influence who managed to get things done for the community.
"Dick was someone you just had to say yes to. He had a subtle way of getting what he wanted done and convincing you it was your idea,” the mayor said. “As an educator he influenced so many; as a leader in the mining world he enlisted the right influencers and then said ‘Hey folks, I think we can do this’ and before you knew it things were launched. He will be missed for his spirit and enthusiasm."
Marla Tremblay, executive director at MineConnect, agreed that DeStefano was a man of influence.
"Our thoughts are with the DeStefano family during this time of sorrow. Dick was a long-time advocate of Sudbury's mining sector and he will be greatly missed," Tremblay said.
"The entire team at MineConnect is saddened by his loss, and our deepest sympathies go out to all of Dick’s family, friends, and colleagues, both past and present," she added.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Lougheed Funeral Homes in Sudbury.
A cremation is to take place and details on a formal funeral mass will be released at a later time.
Len Gillis covers mining and health care for Sudbury.com.