Many in the Brock community were shocked and saddened to learn of the death on June 27 of Howard Staff, a longtime friend of the University who was well known throughout the Niagara region as a community builder and an iconic figure in Ontario’s grape-growing industry.
Staff, who was 71, was the sixth generation to operate the family farm that has been a vineyard since the 19th century, and today encompasses more than 800 acres of grapes along the escarpment bench in the Town of Lincoln.
The Staff family has had a close relationship with Brock. In the 1990s, Howard joined other grape and wine industry leaders in forming the founders committee that helped create Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. Since its launch, CCOVI has gone on to become a national centre of research that greatly supports Canada’s grape-growers and wineries.
Howard’s wife, Wendy Staff, was a member of Brock’s Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2008, and for several years has been on the organizing committee of the President’s Golf Tournament, which raises thousands of dollars to support student athletes. Their daughter Sue-Ann Staff is one of Canada’s top winemakers, and is a former Winemaker of the Year in Ontario.
Brock President Jack Lightstone said the University owes much to the Staff family.
“Howard and Wendy’s lives have been intertwined with Brock for years,” he said. “I remember Howard’s stories about going to farm after farm as a young man, helping to raise money for Brock’s founding. He will be sorely missed by the Brock community.”
Debbie Inglis, Director of CCOVI and herself a grape grower, praised Howard Staff’s commitment to his friends and to the industry that he worked tirelessly to help shape and lead for half a century.
“He was an inspiration to so many, including myself,” said Inglis. “His generosity, sense of values and genuine nature will be sadly missed. I take comfort in knowing the qualities we all so admired in Howard live on through his children and grandchildren.
Staff was one of the longest-serving members of the Grape Growers of Ontario, spending 38 years on its growers committee and 10 as a board member. He also sat on the Niagara Escarpment Commission, and was president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Assn.