George T. Richardson was remembered Wednesday less as the business executive who helped create an empire and more as a humble family man who loved nature and machinery.
The former CEO of James Richardson & Sons Limited and the patriarch of Winnipeg's first family of business died last month at the age of 89.
"He did walk with kings, but he never lost the common touch," his son, Hartley Richardson, told hundreds of friends, family members and business associates who gathered at the Fairmont Hotel to remember "GTR."
"We are left to turn a heavy page in the book of life. He was much loved and he will be missed."
Among those gathered to celebrate Richardson's life were his widow, Tannis, and younger sister Kathleen.
Even though he led the family business for 27 years, starting in 1966, he was not memorialized for his business prowess. Instead, several family speakers, as well as Janice Filmon and long-time JRSL executive Bob Puchniak, shared stories about his love of hunting, flying his helicopter, his ability to relate to employees and his deep love for Winnipeg, his province and his country.
His niece, Carolyn Hursh, who succeeded him as JRSL's chairman, said he gave his life to the firm and the family and was a hands-on boss. She reminded everyone about the picture of her uncle at the site of what would become the Richardson Building breaking ground with an auger.
"He loved machines and mechanical things. He knew how they worked," she said.
Puchniak concurred. He described his boss as being "as comfortable with royalty as he was with roughnecks."
"He would ask the most technical questions about financial statements in the morning and later in the day, he might be driving a bulldozer or riding a horse. He would quiz engineers about what drill bits they were using. He wanted to touch it, feel it and drive it," he said.
But it might have been Richardson's grandson, Thor, who best captured the family man.
One summer day about 15 years ago, a bear appeared near his family's Lake of the Woods cottage. Amid his mother's screams and his father arming himself with a couple of frying pans, he was instructed to bring his grandfather from his cottage, a short boat ride away. They returned a few minutes later, with the elder Richardson toting his shotgun.
His son told him to hold on while they figured out a plan of action and had only taken a few steps when a shot rang out and the bear had been felled. When asked what happened to waiting while they finalized a plan, the elder Richardson replied, "My grandchildren are outside. The only good bear is a dead bear."
The service was attended by many prominent members of the business community, including Sandy Riley, CEO of Richardson Financial Group, Kevin Kavanagh, former CEO of Great-West Life, Arthur Mauro, former CEO of Investors Group, and Barry Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority.
The service closed with a live performance of Snowbird, the Anne Murray classic that was Richardson's favourite song.