January 21, 2016 3:52 pm
Updated: January 22, 2016 12:40 pm

ATCO founder Ron Southern dead at 85

WATCH ABOVE: Prominent Calgary businessman Ron Southern passed away at the age of 85. As Tony Tighe reports the sports hall of famer and philanthropist is being called a visionary and a true friend.


Calgarians are mourning the death of businessman Ronald D. Southern, who died Thursday at 85.

Southern and his father started the Alberta Trailer Company in 1947, which later became the international company ATCO.  He and his wife Margaret also opened the Spruce Meadows equestrian centre, famous for its show jumping venue.

“In April of 1975 the Southern family officially opened Spruce Meadows,” the sports centre said in a tribute on its website. “The founder’s simple recipe of ‘Good Friendship, Good Commerce and Good Sport’ has provided valuable guidance and a wonderful platform for Spruce Meadows through the decades. So too has his genuine lifelong commitment to excellence, which he brought to everything in his life.”

Flags at Spruce Meadows were at half-mast Thursday in memory of Ron Southern.

Tim Lee / Global News

READ MORE: Calgary’s Spruce Meadows equestrian venue celebrates 40 years

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, former prime minister Stephen Harper and Calgary MP Jason Kenney sent condolences in tweets Thursday afternoon.

Notley also released a statement, highlighting he was honoured in 2012 with the Alberta Order of Excellence and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

“Ron’s many endeavours created Alberta jobs, contributed to our pride and made Alberta a show-jumping destination. We are forever grateful for his vision, his generosity and his shining example of community support,” Notley said. “He will be sorely missed.”

WATCH: Flags at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame at C.O.P. and Spruce Meadows have been lowered in honour of Ron Southern. As Brendan Parker reports, he leaves behind a remarkable legacy in Calgary sports.

The British Consulate-General in Calgary also shared memories of Southern on Twitter, as did Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver:

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi remembered Southern as a prominent businessman and community builder.

“It is because of Ron’s vision for Spruce Meadows more than 40 years ago that we as Calgarians are lucky enough to enjoy this iconic venue,” Nenshi said in a statement. “And Spruce is only one example of the extraordinary work of Ron and his family. Their legacy is felt here every day and we will remember Ron with deep gratitude.”

The chief of the Tsuut’ina First Nation called Southern a “true and loyal friend to Tsuut’ina people.”

“Though a sad day for the Southern family and the many, many people touched by Ron’s work, generosity and integrity, this is also a day where I choose to reflect with fondness and respect on a man who built so many things, created deep life-long and personal friendships with the people he touched, and who did not just talk about respect for First Nations people – he demonstrated it,” Roy Whitney said in a statement.

“Ron made Tsuut’ina a central part of the vision and execution of Spruce Meadows. In 2013, I was honoured to make Ron an honourary member of the Tsuut’ina Nation, bestowed honourary Chieftainship and gave him the name ‘Sorrel Horse’.”

ATCO Group said Southern played a key role in leading the company over the past six decades.

“He was instrumental in leading ATCO Group from its very modest beginnings in 1947 through its initial public offering, its acquisition and repatriation of Canadian Utilities, to its vast present day global operations in Utilities, Energy, Structures and Logistics.

“Under Mr. Southern’s leadership the company expanded its presence and operations well beyond its Alberta base to over 100 countries of the world.”

WATCH: From 2012: ATCO and Spruce Meadows founder Ron Southern receives the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

AKITA Drilling Ltd., a spin-off of ATCO Group, said Southern played a “pivotal role in every major development in the evolution of the company.”

“Under Mr. Southern’s guidance the Company expanded its presence into the Arctic, developed strong joint venture relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups across western and northern Canada, and was at the forefront of pad rig development and expansion in western Canada,” said a statement from the company.

“Mr. Southern’s wisdom, passion, resolve and vision will be greatly missed by AKITA; the lessons he instilled and his lifelong commitment to excellence will continue to guide the company.”

Southern was also remembered as a “lifelong champion for sport” by Sport Calgary.

“Mr. Southern was a great Calgarian,” executive director and CEO of Sport Calgary Murray Sigler said in a release. “And he was a lifelong champion for sport in our city. He will be sorely missed. On behalf of everyone involved in sport, we extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

Watch below: Global looks back on the life of Ron Southern, celebrated as a hardworking man who grew business and sport in the city of Calgary.

Southern was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, along with his wife, as a Builder for Equestrian sport in Canada.

“His passion for horse jumping and the equestrian sport led to the development of Spruce Meadows, one of the world’s foremost eventing arenas and training facilities in the world,” president and CEO of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Mario Siciliano said in a statement. “His legacy will live on for generations to come.”

He was also made a companion to the Order of Canada in 2006.

Southern is survived by his wife, Margaret Southern, and his daughters, Nancy Southern and Linda Southern-Heathcott.

In their tributes, his companies included Southern’s own definition of excellence.

“Going far beyond the call of duty.
Doing more than others expect.
This is what excellence is all about.
It comes from striving for and maintaining the highest standards,
looking after the smallest detail and going the extra mile.
Excellence means caring.
It means making a special effort to do more.”
– R.D. Southern

With a file from The Canadian Press

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