Ken Thomson, Canada's richest man, dies

Ken Thomson, who transformed the media empire his father founded and became the richest person in Canada, died at his office Monday at the age of 82.

Ken Thomson, whotransformed themedia empire founded by his father andbecamethe richest person in Canada,has died at the age of82.

Reports say he died at his Toronto office Monday morning of an apparent heart attack.

Thomson was no longer actively involved in the day-to-day running of Thomson Corp., but remained on the board of directors.

In a statement, son David Thomson said the entire Thomson family was"deeply grateful to my father for his wise stewardship of our family business for more than 30 years."

"More importantly, he was a gentle and kind man who impressed everyone with whom he came in contact. He was much loved."

Steered company in new directions

Ken Thomson became chairman of thefamily's business interests in 1976,on the death of his father, Roy.

He became chairman of Thomson Corp. in 1978 and held that job until handingover the reins toson David in 2002.

"He was a remarkable man who did so much to build this business by constantly investing in the future," Thomson Corp. CEORichard Harrington said in a statement.

"He was a strong leader whose energy and enthusiasm for Thomson was contagious. Anyone who met Ken was touched by his grace, charm and humility."

Under Ken Thomson's stewardship, the company headed in new directions.

Over the years, he sold the company's extensive travel, energy and retail interests (including the Hudson's Bay Company)and, in the 1990s, moved Thomson Corp. out of newspapers and into electronic publishing for the financial, legal, health and scientific communities.

The move turned out to be very profitable. Thomson Corp.'s 2005 revenues came to $8.7 billion US. In the most recent three-month period, it made a profit of $137 million US.

The Thomson family's holding company, Woodbridge Co.,owns 40 per cent of Bell Globemedia, the company that owns the Globe and Mail newspaperand the CTV television network.

Ken Thomson once called the Globe the "jewel of the crown" in a media empire that used to have plenty of marquee namesin Canada, the United States,Britain and other countries.Thomson's print empire at one point included the Times of London.

Praise for Thomson's business acumen

Conrad Black, who had tried to buy the Globe but lost out to Thomson,praised his late rival's business acumen.

"He had the grand vision," Black told CBC News Business anchor Fred Langan. "He has left a magnificent company in the hands of first-class executives that appears to have a brilliant future."

Black called Thomson's decision to sellthe newspapers and get into online publishing "a genius move."

Peter C. Newman, who chronicled the wealth and power of Canada's business elite in his Canadian Establishment series of books, said it is Thomson's son, David, who will now be tested at the top of the Thomson empire.

"I hope that he steps in and becomes an activist chairman, as he should be," Newman told CBC News Business.

Wealth concentrated inThomsonstock

Ken Thomson was born Sept. 1, 1923, in Toronto. His first job was as an apprentice reporter at the Timmins Daily Press, the first paper his father bought.

Earlier this year, Forbes magazine estimatedthe Thomson family's worth at $19.6 billion US.

Most of that wealth came fromstock in Thomson Corp. Ken Thomson was the controlling shareholder of Thomson Corp. and owned 70 per cent of the shares. Control of the Thomson Corp. will remain with the Thomson family.

Ken Thomsonwasan important and generous patron of the arts, donatingmillions to help build Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto in the early 1980s.

Over the years, Thomson amassed what was considered the finest private art collection in Canada, with highlights including Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens— the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at auction— and famed works by Canadian superstars such as Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and Cornelius Krieghoff.

In 2002, he stunned the Canadian art world by donating his 2,000-piece collection, worth an estimated $300 million, to the Art Gallery of Ontario along with $50 million to help launch the gallery's massive expansion project and $20 million for its endowment fund.

Thomson was a private and unassuming man who, in Canada,did not use the Lord Thomson of Fleet title he had inherited from his father. "In London, I'm Lord Thomson; in Toronto, I'm Ken," he said in a 1980 interview in Saturday Night.

His parsimony waslegendary. From wearing shoes with holes in their soles to flying economy class, he was in someways a reluctant billionaire who seldom entertained in the Rosedale mansion he shared with his wife, Marilyn.

Besides his wife, heis survived by histwo sons — David and Peter —and a daughter, Taylor.