Ballarat has lost one of its favourite sons with the death of publican and philanthropist Leo Canny this week.
A fixture in the city as the owner of the Red Lion Hotel on Main Road for 45 years, Mr Canny was also a successful motor mechanic, service station owner and car salesman; a keen footballer good enough to have a run with Richmond and Essendon, a fine cricketer who represented Ballarat, and even a Golden Gloves winning boxer.
Most importantly, says his son David, he was a loving husband to his wife Elaine and six children, and a firm believer in giving back to the community.
Born in the Barkly Street Maternity Hospital in 1930, Leo Canny left St Columba's Parish School aged 13 to find his way in the world, taking a job that very afternoon at Beaurepaires Service Station on the corner of Armstrong and Mair streets.
With a natural flair for and interest in mechanics, Mr Canny soon became interested in running his own businesses, eventually opening regional Victoria's first Mazda franchise in Wendouree, convincing the federal member for Ballarat Dudley Erwin and the Japanese consul to attend.
After selling the business, and with no more knowledge of running pubs than what he had gleaned from Dudley Erwin, who owned Craig's Royal Hotel at the time, Mr Canny bought the Red Lion in 1975. From the outset, says David, Leo ran the hotel with the same acumen he brought to his motor dealerships.
"Dad never considered making money (for himself)," he says.
"He always considered what was left over was to be put back into the business. It was all about making the business better. Always."
Part of that business was investing in his Ballarat community through philanthropy, something Mr Canny did quietly and without question or ostentation,. Whether it was writing a cheque for someone in need, buying new football jumpers for a club or creating a trust for the Ballarat Foundation, Leo Canny was willing to assist.
"He was heavily involved with George Kannourakis and always has been a supporter of the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute, because he was touched by that," David says.
"Dad had a real community ideal. It was about what the customers wanted, about who we support as far as footy clubs and cricket clubs. He knew the pub had a place as far as the community was concerned. He was always focused on the role the pub plays in the community: as a meeting place, as a communal area with places where you celebrate and commiserate..
"A very important part of running the pub was that he was on site a lot of the time. He wouldn't be out and about talking to people, having a beer and a laugh with them. A lot of the old customers came in last night to remember him, which was nice. Dad was famous for drinking a five-ounce beer: half-light beer and half-soda.
"His catchcry was always 'Life's good.'"
Leo Canny is survived by his wife Elaine and five of his six children, his daughter Kathy having predeceased him in 2018.
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