Toby McKenzie dies following long illness
by DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor
May 02, 2013 | 11372 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Toby McKenzie
Toby McKenzie
Funeral arrangements are pending at Fike Funeral Home for local businessman and philanthropist Steve A. (Toby) McKenzie, 59, who died overnight in a Chattanooga hospital.

His wife, Rebecca, said this morning that he was finally doing well enough to come home after lengthy hospital stays in SkyRidge Medical Center and Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

Family attorney Richard Banks said it was his understanding that doctors were performing a medical procedure “and he just never came out of it.”

Banks, who represented McKenzie through bankruptcy in 2009, described McKenzie’s life story as one of rags to riches to rags again.

“If you put all the good things he did for people on one side of the scale and the few bad things he did on the other side, the good things would outweigh the bad,” he said. “He needs to be memorialized somehow for that.”

McKenzie took pride in the fact that he escaped an impoverished childhood in East Cleveland, but he returned to his old neighborhood in April 2006 to contribute $250,000 for a park.

He said then that not much had changed in the neighborhood since he quit his paper route in 1979. At that time, he said he was the largest newspaper carrier in the state with a total of 2,200 customers. He delivered the Chattanooga Times in the morning and the Cleveland Daily Banner in the afternoon. In his last year as a carrier, he said he earned $90,000.

Of his old east Cleveland neighborhood, he said in 2006, "About half the people here want to get out and the other half can't. The half that can't are still here. A lot of them imagine I'm still their paper carrier, and I just love it when I hear that."

From newspaper carrier, McKenzie started and sold two rent-to-own chains with 46 stores each. He then built a check cashing chain of 700 stores and sold it.

"That was the early days of check cashing," he said. "I was the first one in that. I've been doing real estate since then.”

In April 2006, he had returned to the check cashing, but not in his hometown, he said.

His fortunes changed and he was forced into bankruptcy in November 2008, with ownership in more than 100 businesses and debt of about $150 million. He emerged from bankruptcy in August 2009 in poor health and three failing bowling alleys.

His health has continued to decline since then. Banks said McKenzie was in SkyRidge for about 30 days and in Erlanger for about 48 days before he died.