Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Meet the patriarch of first family of hockey

Senior Chipman avoids the spotlight

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HE sat at the end of the front row at the biggest press conference in his family's history -- not on the podium -- far from the microphones, quietly shaking hands and accepting congratulations from well-wishers.

Even though he's the patriarch of Winnipeg's first family of hockey and played a key role in the return of the National Hockey League to town, RM (Bob) Chipman is loathe to seek out the limelight.

In fact, he would have watched the entire proceedings from the back of the room Tuesday morning had his daughter, Susan Millican, not ushered him up to the seat with his name on it. The 84-year-old is content to lend a hand, be a sounding board for his offspring and then give them all of the credit. Their influence on him, however, is substantial to say the least.

Case in point: While attempting to politely decline an interview request with the Free Press, he finally acquiesced when Millican walked up, kissed him gently on the cheek and said, "I think you should talk, Dad."

With that, the founder and chairman Megill-Stephenson Co., the parent company to the Birchwood Automotive Group and significant real estate holdings, held court for a few minutes.

"I've been saying for a number of years that Winnipeg lacked two things -- a National Hockey League team and Ikea," he said, referring to the furniture giant scheduled to open its much-anticipated store in the south end of Winnipeg next year.

"I think Winnipeg now has equal status with Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver as a truly important Canadian city."

He said his family's dream of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg began right after it was decided the Jets were destined for Phoenix in 1996. He was one of a select group of business leaders who spearheaded the "Save The Jets" campaign back in 1995. Before that, he was on the Jets' board and chairman of Winnipeg Enterprises.

"I've been around this story for a long time," he said. "I've been very fortunate to have such a wonderful family and to work with a lot of great people. I'm a very fortunate guy."

True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman is quick to give credit where credit is due, saying while his father goes about his business quietly and efficiently, his influence speak volumes.

"I can't describe the feelings I have for my father. Role model doesn't begin to describe what he has meant to my brothers, my sister and me. He's one of the smartest and wisest human beings that I've ever met. He's a kind, thoughtful and humble guy," he said.

Chipman said most children grow up trying to emulate their parents, and he, brothers Jeoff and Steve and sister, Susan, were no exception. He described his late mother, Sheila, who passed away in 2005, as "an absolute rock."

"She allowed him to start a business from scratch. They both provided so much love and support in our lives," he said.

Millican agreed, saying everything that her family has is due to her parents.

"My mom would have been thrilled to be there today," she said.

And her father plans on being there today, tomorrow and well into the future. She said he has been golfing his age for 12 years, walks two miles every morning and regularly does weights, push-ups and sit-ups.

"I can't keep up with him. He's a fit guy and he's committed to being healthy. I'm very fond of him," she said.

Even though his father would never admit it, Mark Chipman said he played an integral role in the lengthy, drawn-out process to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg.

"He was home base. He asked the tough questions," said Mark.

Fellow owner David Thomson, who knows a thing or two about growing up in a family business -- having acquired his business acumen at the right hand of his media mogul father, Ken -- said he "deeply admired" the elder Chipman.

"The leadership from generation to generation is an inspiration. It's a testament to values and inculcating them through the generations," he said.

"It's a blessing for Mark to have his father by his side, just as it's a blessing for his father to have Mark and all of his family by his side."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2011 C6

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