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Jalynn Bennett, pioneering female executive, dies at 71

Jalynn Bennett is shown in this 2002 file photo.

Patti Gower/The Globe and Mail

Jalynn Bennett, a prominent Canadian director and pioneering female executive, has died.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Coroner's Office confirmed Ms. Bennett, 71, died in her Toronto home on Saturday. The cause was not disclosed.

Ms. Bennett's death leaves vacancies on a number of public and private boards including Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. and Toronto real estate developer Cadillac Fairview Corp.

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Teck's chairman Norman Keevil said the company's directors are "deeply saddened by the passing of our dear colleague and friend."

He said Ms. Bennett "was a pioneer and a leader in both the public and private sectors, contributing strong guidance and good advice to a range of organizations, corporations and government bodies over her career. We were very fortunate to have had the benefit of her counsel for 10 years on the board of Teck. Jalynn leaves an enduring legacy of good governance across Canada, and we will all miss her wisdom, good humour and warm personality in equal measure."

Over the years, Ms. Bennett has served as a director at many major companies including Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board.

Jim Leech, former chief executive officer of Ontario Teachers, described Ms. Bennett as his "go-to board member for advice" when the pension fund was expanding its portfolio of private company investments.

"Jalynn's breadth of experiences, practical approach and ability to connect and inspire others made her a very effective board member who worked tirelessly for the teachers and taxpayers of Ontario," he said.

Ms. Bennett spent most of her career with Manulife Financial. After graduating with an economics degree she was hired by the insurer to answer phones in the insurer's investment division. Her financial expertise and problem-solving skills earned her increasingly senior roles at a time when financial institutions rarely elevated women to senior positions. Like many successful female executives of her generation, Ms. Bennett was a modest pioneer who was uncomfortable drawing attention to her success.

In the early 1990s when the Toronto Club and York Club lifted their male-only membership rules to welcome her as their first female member, she dismissed her accomplishment as a "historical fluke."

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Reflecting on her career in a 2000 interview, she said: "I happened to be born at the point in time when choices for women were changing fairly rapidly. ... I'm sure there have been a lot of quieter revolutions."

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