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Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons, sips a coffee in Toronto on Friday, October 20, 2006. Joyce has died at age 88.AARON HARRIS/The Canadian Press

Ron Joyce, the force behind Tim Hortons’ explosive growth into Canada’s largest fast-food chain, has died. He was 88.

A spokeswoman for The Joyce Family Foundation confirmed his death to The Globe and Mail.

Born in Tatamagouche, N.S., Mr. Joyce led a rags-to-riches life that saw him go from high-school dropout to one of Canada’s best-known billionaires. After working a series of industrial jobs, serving in the Royal Canadian Navy and becoming a policeman in Hamilton, Ont., Mr. Joyce bought an early Tim Hortons location. He went on to grow the coffee-shop chain into one of the most iconic franchise businesses in the country and engineered a brand that is, for many, just as Canadian as our flag’s maple leaf.

In an interview with The Globe last December, Mr. Joyce reflected on his life, which has included substantial business successes but also two failed marriage and several court challenges, including one unresolved sexual assault allegation dating back to 2011.

“It’s been a wonderful journey and I probably wouldn’t change a thing,” Mr. Joyce told The Globe. “I’ve been very, very fortunate economically,” he said, adding that he has learned, “the more you give, the more you get back.”

Mr. Joyce became a philanthropist after selling the Tim Hortons chain to Wendy’s, the Ohio-based hamburger chain, in a 1995 deal worth almost $600-million. Marked by his own impoverished childhood, Mr. Joyce devoted a substantial amount of his personal wealth to ensuring economically disadvantaged Canadian youth have access to educational opportunities they could not otherwise afford. For this, in 1992, he was awarded the Order of Canada.

In addition to launching the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation, on which he spent significant amounts of his personal capital, Mr. Joyce has donated $185-million through The Joyce Family Foundation. Many of those donations, to hospitals and schools, were made with stipulations of no publicity. Most of the money, his foundation said, has gone toward endowments for student bursaries across Canada designed to spool out indefinitely.

“He wasn’t looking for a bunch of people to know and thank him," Mr. Joyce’s son, Steven, said of his father’s philanthropy. "It’s just something he saw as an obligation. When you’ve done so well by this country, you contribute back.”

Mr. Joyce is survived by his seven children: Gary, Ron Jr., Derrick, Darrel, Grant, Rhonda and Steven.

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