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Bill James.Thomas Szlukovenyi/The Globe and Mail

In 1980, I had been with Falconbridge for 20 years as a metallurgical engineer in process R&D, latterly as director of patents and licensing. I was looking for a change and as our kids were growing, we were looking for a larger house.

The real estate market was crazy in 1980 – prices doubled during the spring and so did mortgage rates. We bought a larger house in May expecting a modest mortgage after selling ours, but within a week the market collapsed, and by the time we were able to sell our house in the fall, the mortgage had ballooned to three times what we had anticipated.

Bill James hired me at Noranda at the same time, while I was buried in mortgage debt. I had to swallow my pride and ask him for help. Without any hesitation, he asked the corporate lawyer to extend me a loan at a preferred rate, which was a big help handling our debt. He knew the bind I was in because his own son was having the same problem, along with many others who got caught in the same mortgage squeeze that year.

Every few months, Bill would come into my office and ask me about the management at Falconbridge, which didn’t surprise me because his father was director emeritus at Falconbridge. Little did I know, however, that he was planning to move to Falconbridge as president, which he did two years after hiring me into Noranda.

His job at Falconbridge was similar to that of many new presidents recruited from outside, what was known to insiders as a “hatchet man” – a function he performed to perfection, as alluded to in The Globe and Mail’s obituary. Thank goodness I wasn’t there at the time or I would likely have been one of the casualties instead of having a good job at Noranda.

Everything said about him in the obituary is essentially as I remember him: loud, gruff and brash, but fair, honest and hard-working to a fault. We got along well and I am forever grateful for his generosity in helping me with my mortgage.

Gerald Crawford, PhD, P.Eng., lives in Mississauga, Ont.

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