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Leon K. Stepanian Sr. 1911 — 2003

Leon Sr., a Richmond native who bought Loveland Distributing Co. in 1958 and built it into one of the region's most successful wholesalers, died April 7. He was 92.

Next to friends and family, beer was his life. So much so that those close to him called him the beer patriarch of Virginia.

"The man ate, slept and drank beer. Whatever it was we were doing, he always had a detour," his son says, in which they'd inevitably wind up in a client's restaurant or store talking business or baseball. "As a boy I sat on more barstools. Every time he'd drink a Richbrau, I'd drink a Tru-Ade," Leon Jr. recalls.

If Leon Sr. lived by a philosophy it was one that valued friendships above all else. His ability to make and keep them proved to be good for business. Through the years, his employees grew from seven to 152. Many have worked at Loveland for decades. And his clients are as loyal as his employees. Every day he made it a point to visit a different one. Among his favorite haunts were the Attache, Chiocca's on Belmont or Park Avenue, Phil's Continental Lounge and Joe's Inn. Owners always offered him a cold beer — usually a Miller High Life — and a special place at the bar.

He fought cancer twice: first in 1967, then again in 1990. Those battles may have made him ever more grateful for what his life had come to mean. He witnessed his son and grandsons grow in their roles in the now third-generation family-run business he created. And while he likely never gave a million dollars to any person at once, Leon Sr. surely gave that much to friends and local organizations through the years.

He lived the American Dream, his son says. It's a dream remembered in the hundreds of sympathy cards that continue to come to the Stepanians and the Loveland office on Dabney Road.

Leon Sr. wasn't known for his golf game because he didn't have one, his son says amusedly. And he didn't like to travel. Instead, he saw the world from the inside and through familiar faces. "He was most comfortable in a bar where he could talk to you about buying, selling or drinking beer," his son says, adding: "The greatest thing we could do for him is have a toast." — Brandon