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Dr. John Evans, founder of the MaRS Discovery District, died Friday at the age of 85.

Philip Cheung/The Globe and Mail

John Robert Evans was a pioneer in the fields of public health, higher education and innovation both in Canada and on the global stage. Dr. Evans died Friday at the age of 85.

The founder and chairman of the MaRS Discovery District, Dr. Evans worked to create Canada's next generation of growth companies by offering a place where science, technology and social entrepreneurship could meet. It was only the most recent in a life filled with accomplishments.

"John Evans was the most gifted and accomplished Canadian of his generation," said Robert Prichard, former president of the University of Toronto and CEO of Torstar Corp., organizations Dr. Evans also helmed in his career.

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"He was a man of extraordinary accomplishment and contribution, a leader in medical education, public education, higher education, innovation, governance and public service. It would be impossible to overstate the contribution of this remarkable man."

As a young man, Dr. Evans studied cardiology at the University of Toronto and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford. He was recruited to become the founding dean of McMaster University's faculty of medicine, working with the medical school's founder, Dr. Fraser Mustard. Later, he was encouraged by then-Ontario premier Bill Davis to leave medicine and return to his alma mater, the U of T, as president.

In one of the few setbacks in his career, Dr. Evans ran unsuccessfully in a 1978 federal by-election in Toronto's Rosedale riding for the Liberal Party, touted by some as an eventual potential successor to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He lost the race to the city's former mayor, David Crombie.

After his political defeat, Dr. Evans left Canada for the World Bank, becoming the founding director of the organization's population, health and nutrition department. He later came back to Canada to become the founding CEO of biotechnology company Allelix Biopharmaceuticals Inc. The move into business helped earn Dr. Evans a reputation as a sought-after corporate director.He would go on to be chairman or director at organizations such as Rockefeller Foundation, Torstar Corp, and Alcan Aluminum Ltd. In the mid-2000s, Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien tasked Dr. Evans with heading the newly created Canadian Foundation for Innovation with an initial $800-million budget. The post inspired Dr. Evans to develop the idea for the MaRS Foundation. In 2012. Dr. Evans's family donated $10-million to the MaRS Discovery District to create the MaRS Solutions Lab, which aimed to work on issues such as commercializing new research and creating fellowships for young Canadians. He continued serving as the foundation's chairman until only recently, when he became too ill.

He was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1978 and awarded the Order of Ontario in 1991. A skilled football player, he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Business Hall of Fame and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife, Gay, and six children. Two of his  sons, twins Mark and Michael, won gold medals for rowing in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Michael went on to become vice-chairman at Goldman Sachs, while another son, Tim, followed in his father's footsteps as the senior director, health nutrition and population global practice at the World Bank.

A full obituary is forthcoming

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