Kenneth Thomson, former chairman of Thomson Corp., famous art collector and one of the world's wealthiest men, died of an apparent heart attack in his office Monday morning at age 82.
The private, understated entrepreneur oversaw the transformation of a scattered conglomerate into a global electronic-publishing giant, worth about $30-billion today. His eldest son David replaced him in 2002.
"We will miss his support and companionship terribly," said David Thomson in a statement. "All of my grandfather's family are deeply grateful to my father for his wise stewardship of our family interests for more than 30 years.
"More importantly, he was a gentle and kind man who impressed everyone with whom he came in contact."
Jason Stewart, Thomson Corp.'s spokesman, said he died just after 8 a.m. EST in Toronto "due to an apparent heart attack."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised Mr. Thomson's contributions to Canadian society.
"Mr. Thomson was one of Canada's most successful businessmen and combined his financial acumen with his commitment to serve both his country and his community," Mr. Harper said in a statement.
"The Thomson family's ownership of newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, as well as the Times of London, demonstrated their commitment to quality journalism and the rights of an informed public."
Born on Sept. 1, 1923 in Toronto, Mr. Thomson was the only son of Roy Thomson, later Lord Thomson of Fleet, and Edna Thomson. He was raised in North Bay, Ont. and Toronto.
Mr. Thomson served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and subsequently attended Cambridge University. Upon his return to Canada, he joined his father's fledgling newspaper business in southern Ontario.
In the 1960s, Mr. Thomson moved to London, England for several years to help oversee The Times newspaper and other Thomson properties in Britain. He became chairman of the family's business interests after the death of his father in 1976.
"Ken Thomson was the most honourable man I ever dealt with," said Geoffrey Beattie, president of Woodbridge, in a release.
"His word was his bond and he dealt with everyone with refreshing candour. He was also an exemplary leader - he had a great vision for the future of the family businesses and was determined to act on that vision. He was a very generous man who avoided the limelight, but his accomplishments were huge."
Mr. Thomson was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight in the past few years after his commitment to donate substantially all of his art collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The collection, more than 3,000 pieces of Canadian and European art and objects, will be housed in a transformed AGO designed by Toronto native Frank Gehry. Mr. Thomson has also donated $70-million to the gallery on top of the art donation.
Toronto Mayor David Miller said Mr. Thomson's legacy as a business mogul and patron of the arts will be remembered.
"Mr. Thomson's contributions to the city of Toronto both personally and professionally will not be forgotten," Mayor Miller said. "Of particular note is his private collection of Canadian art that continues to be a tremendous asset to the Art Gallery of Ontario."
As a business man, Mr. Thomson transformed Thomson Corp. from a conglomerate with about $500-million of media and oil-and-gas assets into an empire that operates databases and on-line tools used by lawyers, doctors and the financial profession. The company is currently valued at $29.5-billion on the stock market.
Mr. Thomson was the wealthiest man in Canada and the ninth-richest in the world, according to Forbes magazine. In March, the publication estimated Mr. Thomson's personal fortune at $19.6-billion (U.S.).
Mr. Thomson remained on the company's board, and also served as chairman of The Woodbridge Co. Ltd, the Thomson family's private-investment company.
"I was very saddened to hear of the death of Ken Thomson," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in a statement. "Ontario and Ontarians are the better for his presence here and we owe him much both in terms of the leadership he brought to his business and for his tremendous devotion to arts and culture in our province."
At the time of his death, Mr. Thomson controlled about 70 per cent of Thomson's outstanding shares, control which will remain with his family.
Woodbridge, meantime, will become the biggest single shareholder of Bell Globemedia, owner of The Globe and Mail, if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approves a proposed ownership shift.
The private company bid to expand its ownership in BGM to 40 per cent from 31.5 per cent in December. Woodbridge also owns a chunk of the Toronto Maple Leafs and CTV.
Ken Thomson is survived by his wife Marilyn, and three children, David, Taylor and Peter and their families. He is also survived by a sister, Audrey Campbell, and was predeceased by another sister, Irma Brydson.
A memorial service will be held on a date to be announced.