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Paragraphe bookstore co-owners Richard King, left, and Jonathan Penney outside their store on McGill College Ave. in Montreal on June 15, 1998.Owen Egan/The Globe and Mail

Richard King, the Montreal bookseller, author and inveterate book booster, managed to bridge the gap between the “ka-ching,” as he called the ring of the cash register, and the sheer magic of the written page.

Gregarious, pragmatic and with a salesman’s flair, Mr. King was a high school drop-out turned mature student of history who got into the book business when he realized he would not find a job in his chosen field. In the 1970s, he first worked for the now-defunct Classics Bookstores, where he learned how to arrange books so that they drew customers in. He also learned the importance of having a knowledgeable staff who respected the merchandise, could respond to customer queries and had the strength to lift boxes of books.

In the early 1980s, as Quebec’s anglophone population was in upheaval following the first referendum on the province’s sovereignty, he and a colleague took over the Mansfield Book Mart, a crammed store in a semi-basement just south of the McGill University campus. Even as many anglophones fled down Highway 401 for Toronto, the business partners made a brash gamble on a future in situ, with a store that would become a haven for English-language writers and readers alike, complete with a café that encouraged people to stay awhile.

Renamed Librairie Paragraphe Books, it would become a landmark in downtown Montreal, both in its original location and in its far grander iteration on McGill College Avenue.

“Richard was creative and a businessman all at once, a mensch and a man for others, in the Jesuit sense of the word, engaged in the world and always, always giving back,” his long-time friend John Aylen said.

Endre Farkas, a poet, editor and publisher who first met Mr. King in the late 1970s, recalled his friend getting the idea for an in-store café from his travels as a sales representative for Classics south of the border.

“He saw bookstore cafés in Cleveland and somewhere in Texas and told himself, ‘I have to do this,’” Mr. Farkas said. “People who read books drink coffee. It creates an ambience.”

Mr. King, who also launched Books and Breakfast, the much-vaunted Sunday morning event during which authors speak about their books to an audience over brunch, died on Jan. 2 after a brief bout with liver cancer. He was 76, a man who could never finish a single beer and recognized the irony, even unfairness, of being diagnosed with a disease often associated with alcohol consumption. He spoke of his diagnosis in a recent video that was part of a YouTube series made for seniors and directed by noted documentary filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart. In the video, Mr. King recalled going to the Jewish General Hospital, where he had volunteered for years as a patient greeter and guide, after suffering what he thought was the effects of atrial fibrillation. Subsequent tests found the cancer, instead.

Mr. King was a high school drop-out turned mature student of history who got into the book business when he realized he would not find a job in his chosen field.Courtesy of Baraka Book

“No one really likes to hear that word coming out of a doctor’s mouth, but I’m pragmatic,” he said. “You’d think I’d be terror-struck, but I’m not. It’s just something that happened.”

His support network was key: his two younger brothers, his long-time life partner, his son and ex-wife, and the staff at the Jewish General, including a nurse, Maggie Quinsey, who had inspired a main character in his last two mystery novels, the second of which is coming out in April.

“Richard was the most kind-hearted person I know,” Ms. Quinsey said in a hospital newsletter. “His humour was always appreciated by our triage team, and he never hesitated to help wherever he was needed.”

Richard King was born in Montreal on Jan. 27, 1945, the eldest of Arthur and Laura (née Schecter) King’s three sons. His father worked in insurance and his mother was a housewife. She suffered from lupus and died just before Rich’s 7th birthday. It was a loss that would help direct the trajectory of his life.

“When he got his cancer diagnosis, he noted that it was the second worst day of his life,” his brother Norman King said, “and that the worst day was when Mom died.”

He turned to books such as the Hardy Boys mysteries, which always provided a solution to seemingly inexplicable, tragic events. He was also protective of his brothers, be it as the cool counsellor at Camp Kinderland, a left-wing Jewish Camp in New York State, or introducing them the to the world outside, to the blues and Bob Dylan’s first album.

Although Mr. King upset his family when he dropped out of high school, after working a series of dead-end jobs, he was accepted as a mature student at Concordia University, where he majored in history, attracted to the subject because he could try to make sense of the past, no matter how chaotic or inexplicable.

He also studied at the University of Rochester, in New York, and in Paris, where he concentrated on events that occurred during the Second World War.

Upon his return to Montreal, Mr. King opted to work at Classics because he had always loved books. A fierce defender of the arts, he also helped found the Quebec Society for the Promotion of English Language, or QSPELL, the precursor to the Quebec Writers’ Federation.

For years, he was a book columnist for the local CBC English-language radio station. “He never criticized a book, per se,” said Sue Smith, who until 2019 hosted the CBC afternoon show, then called Homerun. “He was a raconteur who loved to laugh, a man filled with infectious energy whose eyes lit up as he spoke, Really, they twinkled.”

Mr. Farkas said his friend knew that recognizing literary excellence would raise community consciousness and pride, which would increase book sales. And whenever there was a problem, it was Mr. King who urged action, such as when the public relations company for the Montreal transit decided that only French poetry would be allowed on the sides of city buses, not alongside English poetry, as had been planned in a campaign to popularize the literary genre.

“Richard told us to stage a protest, to make an event out of it and let the media know,” Mr. Farkas recalled. “The day the campaign was supposed to start, there we were, with our poems on placards, stating that anglos and allophones weren’t allowed on the bus.

“The decision,” he continued, “was quickly reversed at the order of [then mayor Jean] Drapeau.”

After selling Paragraphe in 2000, Mr. King remained a presence at the store until 2003, but he also started writing mysteries and helping others, including Holocaust survivors, tell their own life stories.

Along the way, in 1970, Mr. King married Deirdre O’Donnell, with whom he would have a son, Nicholas O’Donnell-King. They would remain friends after they broke up, and following a second marriage that quickly ended, he settled down with Mary Reinhold in August, 2010, after the two were set up on a blind date by her daughter.

“I walked into the café and there he was, in a pink shirt, reading the New Yorker,” Ms. Reinhold said. “We had a coffee, started talking about Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, and the date lasted five hours.”

The couple, who did not live together, called themselves “a-partners.”

“We never said ‘I love you’ until a few days before he died,” she recalled. “We just didn’t want to jinx it.”

Mr. King leaves Ms. Reinhold, Mr. O’Donnell-King and Ms. O’Donnell, as well as his brothers, Joel and Norman King.