George Taylor Richardson, the patriarch of the powerful Winnipeg-based Richardson family, died on Wednesday. He was 89 years old.

For nearly three decades, Richardson was president and CEO of James Richardson & Sons, Limited, one of the oldest privately-owned companies in Canada.

"The shareholders, directors, personnel and retirees of James Richardson & Sons, Limited and its affiliated companies are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of George Taylor Richardson. He was a proud Manitoban and a proud Canadian," a company statement reads in part.

A private family service will be held, according to the company.

The Richardson family has been synonymous with the grain industry in western Canada from the early days of settlement. James Richardson came to Canada from Ireland in 1823, starting in Kingston, Ont., with a tailor shop. He eventually went into the grain business and with his two sons formed James Richardson and Sons in 1857.

George Richardson

George Richardson, who was president and CEO of James Richardson & Sons Ltd. for nearly three decades, died on Wednesday. He was 89 years old. (Manitoba Museum)

George T. Richardson was the great-grandson of the company's founder.

He was also a Canadian Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1970 to 1982 and was influential in the decision to transfer extensive archival collections of the company to the Archives of Manitoba.

Jim Carr, former president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, said Richardson loved Winnipeg and proved you could do anything from here.

"When you are nourished by your roots and you enrich them yourself by your actions, your philanthropy and your value system, that can be recognized internationally," he told CBC News on Thursday.

Carr said Richardson was a very humble man and a lot of what he did to help people was on a one-to-one basis, quiet and away from the spotlight.

"He never looked for personal credit or glory. He just did his job, whatever job was in front of him, and did it very well and without any expectation of a reward or public acclaim," he said.

"There's so much that people will never know because much of the philanthropy and much of the help given to individuals was very quiet and very personal."

Lawrie Pollard, chairman of Pollard Banknote Ltd., said he can attest to that. Richardson helped him out in the 1970s when no one else would give Pollard a mortgage to move his business.

"The next thing I knew I got a phone call from George who said, 'don't worry about it, I'll take care of it.' So he was the one that gave me a start,” Pollard said.

“He's been that kind of a guy to people all his life."

Headquartered in Winnipeg, Pollard Banknote prints tickets for government lotteries in Canada, the United States and the world. The company has five facilities with about 1,200 employees.

$4.45B net worth

Canadian Business Magazine ranked the Richardson family in 2013 as Canada's ninth-wealthiest family with a net worth of $4.45 billion.

With investments in aviation, agriculture, food processing, financial services, oil and gas exploration and property management, the company is more than a family firm, according to the book Just Common Sense: The Life and Times of George Taylor Richardson, by Tim Higgins.

"And George was more than just a company president. Like his father, James Armstrong Richardson, George was a dreamer but like his mother, Muriel, whom he succeeded, he was also a realist," the book states.

"Combining their talents, he led Canada into international grain sales with communist China, brokered deals with unions with a hands on appreciation of their work and brought the world’s oldest business enterprise, the Hudson’s Bay Company from London to a new home in Canada.

"He also investigated to the very roots of every venture the firm undertook during his tenure, and as a pioneer civilian pilot, flew all over North America in his own helicopter to see company operations for himself."

Legacy of success

Sandy Riley, CEO and president of the Richardson Financial Group, said Richardson did a lot for the community but didn't seek out public acclaim.

"This was a man who was engaged in all aspects of his life and the people he dealt with, whether it was hunting or at the farm or in business or at the lake, he just was a down to earth, thoroughly decent, thoroughly admirable person."

Riley said Richardson's biggest legacy was shepherding Pioneer Grain through difficult times and building it into being one of the prominent grain companies in the world.

"It was his steadfastness in the businesses that the family, Richardson family, has owned for many years — the grain business in particular — I think is his greatest legacy," Riley said.

"It is a world-class, leading enterprise in agribusiness now but it went through many tough years that George had to kind of keep it focused and keep it going. Now it's one of the leading companies in the world and something we all in Winnipeg should be very proud of."

Supported community organizations

Richardson was a founding member of several community organizations, including Junior Achievement of Manitoba, the United Way of Winnipeg and the Manitoba Museum.

He helped bring a replica of the Nonsuch, a 53-foot ship originally built in 1668, to the museum in 1970 for Manitoba's centennial and the Hudson's Bay Company's 300th anniversary.

Richardson also supported arts organizations like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, said artistic director Andre Lewis, who described Richardson's death as a huge loss.

"The Richardson family as a whole has supported the arts scene in Winnipeg signficantly…. I mean, in the millions of dollars," Lewis said.

Lewis said Richardson talked about taking ballet classes as a boy and attended many RWB performances over the years.

"He said, 'Well, Andre, you had a choice with me: either I clap or stand up, because I can't do both,' because he was using a cane at the time. So you see the humour in him," he said.

Bob Puchniak, who first started working with the Richardson family's companies in 1969, said employees are feeling sombre about the magnate's death but are remembering his commitment to charitable works.

"Putting back into the community has always been part of the fabric and in many cases … done anonymously," he said. "It sets such a good example for not only the public, but also for employees."

Puchniak described Richardson as a down-to-earth man with a sense of humour who loved the outdoors.

"He was a man's man. I mean, he was a big, tall, strapping individual [who] liked to hunt and fish, and so he could deal with people of all different types, and successfully so," he said.

Richardson was a member of the Order of Canada and received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg.

An avid helicopter pilot, he was an honorary director of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, an honorary Patron of the Western Canada Aviation Museum and honorary colonel of the 402 "City of Winnipeg" Squadron.