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Canada

MANDEL: Boxing legend George Chuvalo’s wife wins first round in ugly family battle

George Chuvalo’s wife has scored a major knockout against her stepkids in her fight to bring the Canadian boxing legend back home.

An Ontario Superior family court judge has dismissed an application initiated almost four years ago by his two adult children that sought a divorce for their dad from Joanne Chuvalo and tried to have her evicted from the marital home and placed under a restraining order over their allegations she was a drug-using, gambling-addicted gold digger who depleted half a million dollars from the couple’s bank accounts.

“It was all lies,” sighs Joanne, 63. “They didn’t have evidence to back up any of their claims because none of it was true.”

Adds her lawyer, Chris Graham, “There’s not a single order that the kids wanted. None of the horrific allegations against their father’s wife stood, they all got shot down.”

Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo. (Getty images)

Justice Kenneth Hood dismissed all claims initiated by Mitchell and Vanessa Chuvalo “with prejudice” — meaning they can’t be raised again.

It’s a sad, ugly battle waged over a national sports hero whose years in the ring have left him so mentally incapacitated that he can no longer make legal decisions for himself.

“The kids started this fight when George lost capacity and he never agreed to it and he couldn’t stop it,” Graham says of the failed divorce application. “It was sad to watch. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As part of the settlement, Joanne agreed to put Chuvalo on title to their Caledon home and sell two of her properties, with half the proceeds in trust for her ailing husband. But despite the best efforts of his kids using their power of attorney, she remains the wedded second wife of Canada’s five-time heavyweight champion.

Canadian heavyweight champion George Chuvalo takes on Muhammad Ali in a 12-round bout at Pacific Coliseum in 1972. (Sun files)

Yet while the increasingly confused 81-year-old former pugilist is traipsed around town to club openings and karaoke nights, she remains home alone.

“George has been hidden from me,” charges Joanne, “and the only reason is that he wanted to come back to me.”

As her husband’s condition continues to deteriorate, the retired nurse is anxious to care for him. But that’s for the next round in court to decide: Joanne has applied to be his personal care guardian and have a trust company appointed to take care of his assets. His children want to retain guardianship of both.

“Our retirement savings have been wiped out in a case that neither of us wanted,” Joanne says.

Boxing great George Chuvalo (far right) had a sandwich named after him by Lorne Pancer (middle) at Pancer’s Original Delicatessen, 3856 Bathurst St., in North York, on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. WWE wrestler Bushwhacker Luke (far left) was also on hand. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

The couple marked their 25th wedding anniversary on Jan. 27. The Public Guardian — appointed by the court to look after his legal affairs — had checked with Chuvalo and he wanted to celebrate.

Joanne rented a private room at a restaurant. Her son — she has two kids of her own — flew in from Florida. Chuvalo was going to meet her grandson for the first time. About 25 of their friends were also on hand.

He never showed.

She believes his children refused to drive him. They have never accepted her, as Chuvalo himself noted in his 2013 memoir.

Once the father of five, he was on the ropes when he met Joanne, battered by blow after blow of family tragedy.

In 1985, Chuvalo discovered the body of his youngest son, Jesse, dead from a gunshot to the head. In 1993, a second son, Georgie Lee, was found dead of a heroin overdose.

And then days after his funeral, Chuvalo’s heartbroken wife Lynne committed suicide.

Joanne had known Lynne from the Toronto hospital where they both worked. A condolence visit soon turned into romance.

“To be honest, I felt guilty that our elopement happened so quickly after Lynne’s death, but I never for a second doubted that it was the right decision,” Chuvalo wrote. “I knew that most people — especially Mitchell and Vanessa — wouldn’t understand (they still don’t) but if it wasn’t for Joanne, I would not have survived.”

With the help of his son and grandsons, retired boxer George Chuvalo arrives for his 80th birthday party at the Cadillac Lounge along Queen St. W.. in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday September 12, 2017. From left – grandson Aaron Chuvalo, 13, George Chuvalo, other grandson Elijah Chuvalo, 12, and his son Mitch Chuvalo. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

She was by his side when he said goodbye to a third son: Steve died of a heroin overdose in 1996.

Mitchell and Vanessa are his only surviving children and Joanne believes his love for them and his dementia have left him vulnerable to their false claims against her.

Mitchell, a phys ed teacher at University of Toronto Schools, refused to comment.

“Not interested in speaking to you,” he replied in a terse email.

The Sun was unable to reach Vanessa for a comment.

Since his children started divorce proceedings in November 2015, Joanne says her husband has tried six times to return to her — only to be taken away by his kids.

Boxing great George Chuvalo is seen in this Toronto Sun file photo with his wife Joanne in 2004.

A month after the court fight began, Chuvalo was stopped for unsafe driving. He said he was lost and trying to get back to his wife. OPP Const. Andrew Duncan took the confused man to Etobicoke General where Joanne met them.

Chuvalo told him he was getting a divorce.

“I asked him if this is what he wanted and he stated that it was not,” Duncan swore in an affidavit. “Mr. Chuvalo stated many times in front of Mrs. Chuvalo words to the effect, ‘What am I going to do without you?’ and ‘Without you, I’m nothing.’”

According to a recent geriatric assessment, Chuvalo lives during the week with a caregiver in Innisfil and his son on weekends. As for his wife, “he could not explain why they live apart or how that came about.”

It’s an excellent question — why are they still being kept apart?

“I don’t want anything but to bring him home,” Joanne insists. “We love each other and always will.”

mmandel@postmedia.com

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