Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Michael E. Stephens, one of the wealthiest and best-known subjects of our Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs reporting, has died at the age of 73

Michael E. Stephens
A subject of our reporting on the Ashley Madison scandal has died. To our knowledge, that's a first here at Legal Schnauzer.

Of the 36 individuals we have covered in our Ashley Madison (AM) series, we believe businessman Michael E. Stephens is the first to have died. We have focused on prominent corporate and professional types who also were paying customers at the notorious Canada-based Web site that promotes extramarital affairs.

We don't have a net worth for each of our AM subjects, but if we did, Stephens probably would rank near the top. He was a big-time business figure in Alabama for decades before spending his later years in Naples, Florida.

Stephens died on July 1 at age 73. No, his obituary did not mention his activities on Ashley Madison. But it did indicate that he had found happiness in his personal life -- and we hope that was the case.

Without question, Stephens had a golden touch as a businessman. Our original AM-related post about him, published on July 20, 2016, noted that he was the man behind one of the most expensive homes in Alabama. From that post:

Michael E. Stephens, former executive director of Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and founder of the Lakeshore Foundation, owns (or did own) the Resting S Ranch on Cahaba Valley Road (Highway 119) in North Shelby County. The 12,300-square-foot main house sits on 35 acres and is valued at $4.56 million. The entire 82-acre ranch had a list price of $11.65 million in 2011. The property has been on the market, but it's not clear from public records if it has sold.

Ironically, my wife, Carol, and I used to live just off Highway 119, too, about four miles east of Mr. Stephens' property, until corrupt political forces in Alabama swiped our home of 25 years out from under us, via a wrongful foreclosure. The houses in our neighborhood, Broken Bow South, were not quite as extravagant as Mr. Stephens' domicile (to put it mildly), but our house there fit us just right, we invested a lot of financial and sweat equity in it, we loved it, and to say we miss it would be putting it mildly.

We drove by Mr. Stephens' Resting S Ranch many times, although my memory is that you barely could catch a glimpse of the main house, which is way off the highway.

Resting S Ranch
Mr. Stephens apparently had an appreciation for finer things, and while our house was of modest size and scope, we worked our butts off to keep it looking nice -- and he probably would have understood how much we treasured it. It's the only house we ever owned and the only one we ever have wanted to own.

It still burns me that our house had begun to show wear and tear, thanks to the political forces connected to former Gov. Bob Riley and his son, Rob "Uday" Riley, who cheated me (UAB) and Carol (Infinity Insurance) out of our jobs. One of my No. 1 goals in life is to get our house back and make sure the SOBs who stole it from us are held accountable.

As for Michael E. Stephens, his life was not just about dollars and cents. There was an inspirational component to it, also. From his obituary:

Born in Selma, Alabama, Mr. Stephens moved to Birmingham in 1946. In 1970 he suffered a spinal cord injury from a diving accident. Although at the time he had already begun a successful career in the publishing industry, that injury, and the grueling recovery process, changed the focus of Stephens's life and ultimately had a profound impact on his personal, professional, civic and philanthropic activities. After intensive rehabilitation during which he learned to walk again, he returned to the University of Montevallo in 1973 to complete a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business. He then went on to earn a Masters of Science Degree from the School of Health Professions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Mr. Stephens held a number of business interests, from publishing to banking, but he left his real mark on rehabilitation medicine. From his obituary:

Mr. Stephens became executive director of Lakeshore Hospital in 1975 when it was still a small rehabilitation facility. Based on his experience during rehabilitation he was determined to eliminate the fragmentation of services that often hampered the recovery of people with physical disabilities. During the next decade, he transformed Lakeshore Hospital into what Forbes magazine called "… a model laboratory for his ideas about rehabilitation." It was his creation of a disabled sports program at Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital which ultimately developed into the founding of Lakeshore Foundation in 1984. Mr. Stephens' progress with Lakeshore Hospital led to his founding of ReLife in 1986. As president and CEO, he guided the organization to national prominence as an effective, comprehensive rehabilitation system. At the time that ReLife merged with HealthSouth Corporation in 1994 the company had 46 rehabilitation facilities located in 12 states. Mr. Stephens' passion, the Lakeshore Foundation, is internationally known as a model organization for providing sports, recreation, fitness and research programs for those with physical disabilities. Because of this success, it was designated as an official US Olympic and Paralympic training site.

I don't think I ever met Mr. Stephens, and I certainly did not run in his financial circle, but our social circles intersected a bit. That's because, in my journalism career, I covered UAB Blazer athletics in various capacities from 1978 to 2008 and became friends with the late athletics director and Hall of Fame coach Gene Bartow. I recall that Coach Bartow mentioned Mr. Stephens several times, knew that he loved horses, and was thankful that Mr. Stephens had been a financial supporter of UAB athletics.

Gene Bartow was one of my favorite people on earth, so if he thought highly of Michael E. Stephens, I tended to think Mr. Stephens must be a pretty good guy, too.

As for Mr. Stephens' Ashley Madison activities, I tend to cut him slack there. I have no idea why he signed up a site that he probably knew was not worth his time. Maybe he just got bored one night -- rich people get bored, too, don't they? -- and put his name on an account that he figured would never see the light of day. On the personal front, we learn this about Mr. Stephens from his obit:

For many, Mike Stephens, became the role model, encourager, and inspiration for significant life changes. His wife, Allison, who he often called "My Angel", gave him a music box one year for his birthday. The music box played "The Wind Beneath My Wings"; on the inside, the inscription read "Mike, your life, your love and your friendship are special gifts, treasured by me and countless others. Thank you for providing the 'wind.' " Following his death, she said, "now Mike will forever be My Angel."

Life was not always a breeze for Mike Stephens. In addition to his spinal-cord injury, he was on the board of Superior Bank, which went through major turbulence in the 2000s and was closed by the FDIC in 2011. It became the first billion-dollar bank failure of 2011. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2016 filed fraud charges against 11 former executives of Superior Bank.

What role, if any, did Mike Stephens play in the failure of Superior Bank? That is not clear from published reports. This is from an article about his re-election to a one-year term on the board in 2006. It's not clear if Stephens was involved with the bank when it went into a nosedive:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 18 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The Banc Corporation (Nasdaq: TBNC) announced today at its annual meeting that its shareholders have approved the change of its corporate name to Superior Bancorp and that it will begin trading under the NASDAQ symbol SUPR on May 19, 2006. In addition, Stan Bailey, Roger Barker, K. Earl Durden, Rick Gardner, Thomas Jernigan, Jr., James Mailon Kent, James M. Link, Barry Morton, Robert R. Parrish, Jr., Marvin Scott, Michael E. Stephens, James A. Taylor and James C. White, Sr. were re-elected to one year terms on Superior Bancorp's Board of Directors."

Public records indicate Stephens went through at least two divorces, but he seems to have found contentment in his later years.

In the end, Mike Stephens did a lot of good on this planet, and he touched a lot of people. Maybe that's because he came across as human -- the kind of guy who could make mistakes, like signing up for Ashley Madison, but bounce back from them. We'd say his was a life well lived.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Stephens, thanks for all you did with Lakeshore, U of Montevallo, and other entities that you touched. RIP.

Anonymous said...

Alabama has lost an important figure in the business and health communities. Mr. Stephens will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Mike Stephens did live a good life. Not sure why you had to sully it with the Ashley Madison stuff.

Anonymous said...

Must respectfully disagree, @1:53. The main obituary for Mr. Stephens probably was written by a family member, so LS's post probably is the nicest sendoff the man will get from a third-party reporter. It shows Mr. Stephens as a guy who did a stupid thing or two, but ultimately did a lot of good. And it shines light on his life to an audience that otherwise might not have known much about him. All in all, I'd say it was a good thing Mr. Stephens signed up for Ashley Madison because it caused LS to write about him -- and the post is presented in a tasteful, respectful way.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you give Mike Stephens a pass and nobody else on your hit list. By the way, I think he was a very important person in our community for what he did with Lakeshore. But you have excoriated every other AM customer in life. You now give credence to the man's life in death. Pretty hypocritical, or perhaps you have found some level of contrition.

legalschnauzer said...

@7:35 --

Who have I excoriated? Why don't you point out some examples.