Yet Ballard was privately generous. If a player (or any other employee) had a personal problem, Ballard would be there for him with money and moral support. Although he had inherited a small fortune from his father, an industrialist, Ballard appreciated hard work. He invested in Maple Leaf Gardens when it was built, in 1931, and gradually earned his way to the top of the Leafs' organization. In the early 1970s he spent a year in jail for tax fraud and theft of Gardens funds, but shrugged off his crime as a mere peccadillo. "If you got a chance to screw the government out of a few bucks, you'd do it, too," he said.
In his later years Ballard found himself at the center of an improbable soap opera involving his three children and his three-decades-younger companion, Yolanda Ballard, who changed her last name from MacMillan even though she wasn't married to Ballard. At various times, Ballard ousted his son Bill from the Gardens's board of directors, testified against Bill in a criminal suit charging Bill with assaulting Yolanda, said he feared his children might try to poison him to get his $150 million fortune, and vowed to leave all his money to charity.
Because so many Maple Leaf minority shareholders felt the team could be better managed by someone else, team stock would rise on the Toronto Stock Exchange when Ballard's health faltered and then fall as it improved. Ballard, a diabetic with heart and kidney trouble, hoped to live to see his Leafs win a Stanley Cup, but in February was declared non compos mentis. His business affairs were placed in the hands of Gardens president Donald Giffin and two Gardens board members, who will serve as coexecutors of Ballard's likely-to-be-contested will.
As Bill Ballard said of his father last week, "Love him or hate him, he was quite a character."