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Staples Co-Founder Stemberg Leaves Lasting Legacy

Thomas Stemberg, the late co-founder of Staples and co-creator of the office-supply superstore concept, created a retail and social policy legacy that will likely long outlive him.

Stemberg, who succumbed to stomach cancer last month at the age of 66, famously came up with the idea for Staples after Independence Day 1985, when the former supermarket executive had trouble finding a replacement typewriter ribbon over the holiday weekend.

“Tom came to a realization: The world needed a supermarket for office products,” the company’s corporate site recounts.

Fired from his supermarket chain for resisting the sale of his warehouse division, he teamed up with Leo Kahn, a former Boston business rival (and later Tweeter investor), and opened the first Staples 10 months later in Brighton, Mass., using feed money from Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital.

Stemberg eventually became a close friend, advisor and political supporter of Romney’s, and the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate credited him with pushing him to enact the state’s affordable healthcare program.

Stemberg retired as Staples’ chairman in 2006, leaving behind what is now a $22 billion chain with 1,900 stores worldwide and one of the largest e-commerce operations on the planet.

Had he lived, he likely would have seen his company acquire rival Office Depot/OfficeMax in a $6.3 billion deal that’s still under review by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).