Donald Sobey leaves a legacy

Community Featured

STELLARTON – A business icon both in Pictou County and across the country has passed away.

The Board of Directors of Empire Company Limited announced the passing of Donald Creighton Rae Sobey, C.M., chair emeritus of the company, today. He was 86 years old.

A prepared statement from Jim Dickson, chair, Empire Company Limited said: “Donald’s impact on the Empire group of companies was profound. He was a brilliant businessperson, and his legacy of value creation speaks for itself. But beyond his success in business, Donald was someone who cared deeply for his community, giving his time, energy, and resources to support so many important causes across the country. The impact of his generosity will certainly be felt for generations to come.”

He leaves behind his wife, Beth, and children Robert (Monique), Irene Aucoin (Gilles), and Kent (Meghan) in addition to grandchildren: Jane, Matthew, Connor, Charlie and Josephine as well as brother David F. Sobey and sister Dianne Sobey.

Jack Kyte, executive director of the Pictou Chamber of Commerce, was saddened to hear of Sobey’s passing and lauded his many accomplishments.

“This is a time to reflect on the amazing contributions Mr. Sobey has made to our province, our economy and to his community, our community. We owe him and his family a great deal and we are fortunate his legacy continues to contribute to our way of life.”  

He noted, “He has been a dedicated member and important supporter of the Chamber of Commerce for decades. In that time he received several Chamber business awards including our most coveted award for Lifetime Achievement. We could always count on him when we needed advice and support.”

Sobey received an honorary degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish in 2010. Dr. Andy Hakin, StFX president and vice chancellor, said he was also saddened by the news.

“Mr. Sobey’s charitable donations and influence played a role in shaping a new generation of leaders” Hakin said and referred to his charitable donations to the university as “significant.”

“He made charitable donations to the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership and the Coady International Institute. He also received the Lifetime Xaverian Patron award in 2013 for his donations to StFX through the Donald R. Sobey Foundation.”

A graduate of Queen’s University in 1957, Sobey joined his father, Frank H. and brothers, Bill and David, in the family business, first in real estate financing and then with the Empire Company Limited. He joined Empire’s Board of Directors in 1963, before being appointed president in 1969 and chair in 1985. In 2004, he retired as chair and was named chair emeritus.

His legacy extends far and wide. It includes a student scholarship he created for educational opportunities, artists who he supported throughout their careers, and countless other individuals and organizations he worked with throughout his philanthropic endeavours.

In the statement issued today, Michael Medline, president and CEO, Empire said, “Empire and Sobeys owe so much to the leadership, business acumen, and passion of Donald.”

He was the founder of the D&R Sobey Scholarship Fund at Queen’s University, and a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Tate Americas Foundation (Tate Museum UK). He had served as a director of Sobeys Inc. since 1998 and of earlier Sobeys companies beginning in 1963. He was also past chairman of the National Gallery of Canada, past chairman of Maritime Tel & Tel and past director of the World Wildlife Fund. Sobey previously served as a director of Toronto-Dominion Bank, Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., High Liner Foods Limited and Trader Classified Media NV.

Sobey was appointed a member of the Order of Canada and had been inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.