The Winnipeg business community has lost an icon.
George T. Richardson, the patriarch of the city's wealthiest and most prominent family, has died at age 89.
In an internal memo sent to employees of James Richardson & Sons, Ltd., Wednesday morning, his son, Hartley Richardson, informed them of the news.
"On behalf of our family, it is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing this morning of my father, George T. Richardson," the memo said.
GTR, as he was known to his business associates, joined JRSL in 1946 after graduating from the University of Manitoba. He was initially assigned to the Richardson Terminal in Thunder Bay, where he had worked the previous two summers.
In 1954, he became vice-president and in 1966, he was appointed president, a position he would hold for the next 27 years as the company excelled in agriculture, real estate, energy and financial services.
"He made an outstanding contribution to the development of the firm during his time in office," the memo continued. "Most notably the expansion of Pioneer Grain, the completion of Lombard Place, which included the Richardson Centre and the Fairmont Winnipeg, and the growing of Richardson Securities of Canada into an international brokerage firm."
Richardson stepped aside for Hartley in 1993, and was appointed chairman and managing director of the firm. He officially retired seven years later, although he remained honorary chairman and director emeritus until his passing.
In its most recent Rich 100 list, Canadian Business magazine listed the Richardson family at No. 9 in the country with a net worth of $4.45 billion.
Accolades were quick to pour in from the Winnipeg business community. Longtime friend, Lawrie Pollard, chairman of Pollard Banknote Ltd., credited Richardson for helping him take his printing business to the next level a half-century ago.
"I wanted to move out of the Free Press building and I was able to buy a piece of property in Fort Garry, but when I went to get a mortgage, nobody wanted to mortgage me. George Richardson ended up taking the mortgage for the building. He didn't have to do that.
"That was the way he was, I've never forgotten that. Guys like me loved him," he said.
Businessman and lawyer David Asper said it's difficult to put into words just how much of a contribution Richardson made to Winnipeg and the leadership of his family.
Even though there was a perceived rivalry between the two families as the Aspers were building Canwest Global Communications, Asper said that wasn't the case.
"That's not the way George was. He was always very supportive of other people in the business community who were trying to do good things," he said.
The word icon can get thrown around a little too casually these days but it fits Richardson, Asper said.
"Absolutely. Look at the evolution of that company and its diversification, both in broad sectors and within each sector it does business. George played a big role in that. He was extraordinarily entrepreneurial," he said.
Jim Carr, former CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, said Richardson was "rooted in the Prairie soil."
"He was so understanding of the people and the land that gave him his strengths and a company that was his inheritance that he built and that grew under his leadership. It happened with humility, and with an understanding of the power of community and that community was Manitoba," he said.
Carr said Richardson was personally engaging and always had stories to tell about people.
"He also knew that the success of his company depended on the strengths of the people who he chose and that his family had chosen historically and Hartley continues to choose, as smart, savvy, and rooted in Manitoba," he said.
"I think our community should pause and reflect what George has given to us and what his family continues to do in ways that are beyond what we will ever know."
Despite his accomplishments and business prowess, Richardson always had time for people.
"His availability to company personnel and business associates alike was exhibited by the fact that his office door was always open and by his unique habit of answering his own telephone," Hartley Richardson said in his memo.
Richardson is survived by his wife, Tannis, two children, David and Hartley, and nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughters, Pamela Richardson in 1980 and Karen Richardson last year.