Vancouver Olympic chairman Poole dies

Jack Poole, the man who brought the 2010 Winter Games to Vancouver, has died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, just a day after the flame for the torch relay was lit in Olympia, Greece.
VANOC chair Jack Poole, left, seen here with VANOC CEO John Furlong, addresses a news conference in Vancouver in 2007. Poole, who died after a lengthy battle with cancer, was praised on Thursday for his tireless efforts in bringing the Olympics to Vancouver. ((Sam Leung/Canadian Press))

Jack Poole, the man who brought the 2010 Winter Games to Vancouver, has died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, just a day after the flame for the torch relay was lit in Olympia, Greece.

Poole, 76, who was chairman of the Vancouver Organizing Committee's board of directors, died peacefully in hospital shortly after midnight, Olympic officials confirmed early Friday.

"This is such sad news for us all. Jack was a man of great passion and drive, and we had all hoped and prayed that he would live to experience the Games he played such a major role in securing for Canada," VANOC CEO John Furlong said in a statement he issued as he travelled back to Vancouver from Greece.

Poole and Furlong co-led the bid that eventually won the Games for Vancouver and Whistler in 2003. Poole then moved on to oversee the preparations as chair of the organizing committee, while Furlong took over the day-to-day operations as VANOC's CEO.

But his health deteriorated after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and submitted himself to an aggressive round of experimental radiation and chemotherapy treatment at a Seattle clinic.

He had survived a battle with prostate cancer in 1993 at the age of 60. But this past summer the pancreatic cancer returned and an operation to remove tumours was only partially successful.

"He had so looked forward to the Olympic flame lighting, and when I talked to him last night, we made plans to visit soon to show him pictures of Greece and the magnificent lighting ceremony. I thank God he was still with us when the Olympic flame was ignited," said Furlong.

Paid $1 a year to lead bid

Poole first signed on to lead Vancouver's Olympic bid team in 2001 alongside co-chair Furlong after his friend and newly elected British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell recommended him for the job.

He was already semi-retired after a boom-and-bust career at the top of Vancouver's real estate development industry, but agreed to take the job for $1 a year, and to pay for any expenses out of his own pocket.

Campbell, who was also in Greece to attend the torch-lighting ceremony, praised Poole's work in bringing the Games to Vancouver.

"British Columbia and Canada have lost a great friend," Campbell said in a statement Friday.

"Few citizens reflect the generosity of spirit, the commitment to the public good and the undying dedication to public well-being that was exemplified by Jack Poole. His was an example of leadership, strength and integrity that is unmatched in my recollection," said Campbell in a statement issued from Greece.

During the ceremony in Olympia on Thursday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge gave special thanks to Poole, to whom, he said, "I bring a very warm and special salute."

Started work at 14

Poole, born on April 14, 1933, in the small town of Mortlach, Sask., started out as a labourer in residential construction at age 14. After a car accident ruined his dreams of hockey career, he went on to get a civil engineering degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

After working in Calgary, he moved to Vancouver to found his own construction business with partner Graham Dawson in 1963, eventually becoming one of North America's top real estate developers as the head of Concert Properties, which he founded in 1989.

He also owned and partnered in a variety of businesses, ranging from marinas and golf courses to automobile dealerships and shopping centres.

His longtime friend and business partner David Podmore, the current CEO of Concert Properties, reacted with sadness Friday morning to the passing of Poole.

"He was a tremendous guy, a great, inspirational leader, and of course, for me, he was a very, very close friend. We had a wonderful relationship over the 24 years," said Podmore.

"He always saw things from a positive light. There really was no challenge that Jack would take on that he didn't believe he couldn't succeed in completing," said Podmore.

Poole was well-known for his philanthropic work and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2006. He is survived by his second wife Darlene, four daughters, a stepson and his extended family.

With files from The Canadian Press