Businessman and football club chairman;
Born: September 13, 1922; Died: October 26, 2012.
JAN Stepek, who has died aged 90, was one of the most remarkable examples of an immigrant's ability to survive and prosper in a foreign land, in his case Scotland.
He was born on a farm in Maczkowce, Poland, and his early years, during which his father Wladyslaw and mother Janina struggled to bring up their three children Jan, Zofia and Danuta, were happy ones.
This hard but happy childhood was shattered in September, 1939, when Poland was caught in a pincer movement. The Nazi invasion from the west was bad enough, then Stalin sent the Red Army in from the east. Wladyslaw was on a Red Army "hit list" of potential resistance leaders, so he fled to Southern Poland. Jan was never to see his father, who died from cancer in 1943, again.
Janina, Jan, Zofia and Danuta were banished to exile in Siberia in 1940 with more than 1.5million other Poles. Amazingly, they were four of only 500,000 who lived to tell the tale of 18 months of forced labour in the gulags.
Janina then led her children on a 2500-mile trek to link up with Polish forces in Kazakhstan, a trip which turned into a 5000-mile one, by going off-course and almost ending up in China. Mr Stepek immediately enlisted in the Polish army, but was struck down by typhus and had to be left behind when the Polish forces, plus civilians, including his mother and two sisters, were shipped across the Caspian Sea to what was then Persia – modern-day Iran.
Mr Stepek later joined them, but twice contracted dysentery, then malaria and whilst he lay in a Tehran hospital, he learned of the death, aged only 40, of his exhausted mother.
He recovered, re-joined the Polish army, but in early 1943, training in Basra, he contracted a tropical illness in Iraq, so he transferred to the Polish navy.
In February 1943 he sailed for Liverpool, before first setting foot in Scotland when sent to Kirkcaldy for training, then moving to Plymouth for further training as a radar operator.
He served on the Polish ships ORP Krakowiak and ORP Slazak in the Mediterranean campaigns in Greece and Italy and on the Normandy landings and in the North Sea landings in Germany in the final weeks of the war.
Demobbed in September, 1946, and with the part of Poland in which he had grown up now annexed into the Soviet Union, Mr Stepek opted to remain in Scotland.
He studied electronics at the Royal College in Glasgow and also undertook an agricultural course, before putting his war-time radar training to good use, buying parts and repairing radios. He quickly established a reputation as a reliable radio mechanic. At this time he also met, courted and in 1949 married a Rutherglen girl, Teresa Murphy. With her support he entered the television supply business in 1952.
In 1960, a year after he took out British citizenship, the Stepeks moved to Hamilton and he branched out into car sales, travel agencies, property and financial services, while his name became known beyond his business heartland of Lanarkshire and Glasgow, through his company's STV advertisements in association with other independent electrical retailers, Glen's, Robertson's and Hutchieson's.
In 1970 he was invited to join the board of Hamilton Academical and almost immediately he was plunged into a battle for survival as he helped stave off the advances of Clyde, who wanted to merge the two clubs. Accies were struggling at the foot of the old Second Division; Mr Stepek became chairman and set about taking Accies to the Premier League. In 1987, having achieved that aim, he stepped down as chairman, to become honorary president of the club.
If his football work was the public face of Jan Stepek, the man himself was perhaps better understood by his often low-key philanthropy. Teresa became used to a stream of down-on-their-luck strangers being brought to the family home.
Mr Stepek never forgot his homeland; he finally returned in 1968, firstly with son Jimmy, on a school trip to Gdansk, before travelling along with the Manchester United team, en route to a European Cup game with Gornik Zabrze in March of that year.
He fund-raised for the restoration of Warsaw Castle and during the tension-filled days of the stand-off between Lech Walesa's Solidarity and the Polish government in 1981-82, he was the epicentre of the relief effort put together by Scotland's Polish community.
The legacy of this work was Mr Stepek's funding of a degree in Polish culture and language at Glasgow University and the annual Polonia lecture on Polish current affairs at the University of Strathclyde – work rewarded with honorary doctorates from both establishments, to go alongside his Second World War campaign medals.
He suffered three strokes in 2002, when aged 80, but recovered and was soon back on the golf course and tending his garden, before the ill-health which blighted his final two years forced him to stop.
He is survived by his wife Teresa, 10 children, 22 grand-children and 8 great-grand-children.
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