Self-made businessman and philanthropist Michael G. DeGroote dead at 89

Michael George DeGroote, philanthropist and self-made business executive, has passed almost a month after his 89th birthday.

A well-known, self-made businessman and philanthropist with connections to Hamilton has died at the age of 89.

Family members say Michael George DeGroote, who donated millions in support of higher education and medical research, has passed on.

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DeGroote, whose name is synonymous with a number of city institutions like the DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery and DeGroote School of Medicine, was born in Flanders, Belgium, and immigrated to Canada after World War II in 1948, at the age of 14.

His humble beginnings in Canada included working on a tobacco farm in Norfolk County in his teens before purchasing of his first truck to haul fertilizer to farmers and transport uranium.

He would eventually purchase Laidlaw Transport, a small Canadian trucking operation at the time, and make it a leader in transportation and logistics across North America through 31 years of innovation.

His billions would come when he diversified his business, adding school buses and a waste company — which became the third largest in North America.

Laidlaw would be Canada’s number one Growth Stock for 17 straight years on the TSX.

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He sold the company in 1988 and retired to Bermuda.

However, he would return to work via the purchase of waste operator Republic Industries in the early 1990s and enter into a joint venture to buy AutoNation, the largest U.S. auto retailer, in the mid-1990s.

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DeGroote received an honourary degree from McMaster University in 1992, despite not finishing school in his youth.

He also received an honourary high school degree from Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton.

In 1990, DeGroote was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

He would donate $105 million to McMaster University in 2003, the largest cash gift in Canadian history for nearly a decade.

“It made him very proud to be able to contribute knowing how it will impact future generations to better themselves with education,” DeGroote’s family said in a statement.

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“Education was a liberty he always wished he could have experienced.”

DeGroote is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger characterized DeGroote’s philanthropy as “laudable” with the city to treasure his institutional investments for years to come.

“The benefits of those investments will continue to accrue to the city of Hamilton for a long, long time,” Eisenberger told Global News.

“So grateful for Mr. DeGroote and the contributions he’s made.”

His funeral will be a private family service in his hometown of Langton, Ont.

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