Philanthropist, Flames owner Hotchkiss dies

A well-known Calgary philanthropist and business leader has died after a battle with cancer.
Former Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss and Calgary philanthropist was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A well-known Calgary philanthropist and business leader has died after a battle with cancer.

Harley Hotchkiss, 83, passed away in his home on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. surrounded by family and friends.

Hotchkiss was one of six Calgary businessmen who bought and moved the NHL's Atlanta Flames hockey franchise to Calgary in 1980.

"He just loved Calgary. He loved Calgary with all of his heart and that's why the Flames were so important to him," said Paul Grescoe, who helped Hotchkiss write his memoirs.

Grescoe describes Hotchkiss as a man of integrity and generosity.

"He was generous in giving $15 million and more to things like the [Hotchkiss] Brain Institute. He was generous in his time when he was so busy doing other things to become chairman of the NHL when it was going through a terrifically bad period. He was generous with all the money he put out with Doc Seaman for the Flames when they had a whole, long stretch of bad years." said Grescoe on Wednesday.

A geologist and the president of several petroleum companies, Hotchkiss chaired the National Hockey League board of governors. The University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute is named in recognition of the contributions from the Hotchkiss family.

'Great mentor' remembered

Tributes poured in for Hotchkiss on Wednesday.

"I am saddened today to hear of the death of a great Calgarian — and great Canadian," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a statement.

"As a hockey fan, I will forever be grateful for his role in bringing the Flames to Calgary."

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said in a statement that he was deeply saddened by the loss.

"He was a great mentor and counsel to me for many years, a man who consistently displayed qualities of integrity, grace and compassion. Harley’s handshake was a declaration of trust; he was an honourable man, both wise and true.

"Harley’s accomplishments in the oil patch, in hockey and in the community made a tremendous difference in the lives of many people and I consider it a privilege to have known him and to have called him a friend."

Commissioner of the National Hockey League Gary Bettman and Flames chairman Murray Edwards also issued statements of condolence.

"Harley was a great partner and a special gift to the hockey world, business, his community and most importantly his family.  His life should be a benchmark for us all," said Edwards.

"Harley’s vision, his leadership, his integrity and his commitment to our game – particularly in Canada – were key components in making hockey, and the National Hockey League, as strong as they are today," added Bettman.

Flames' president and CEO Ken King described Hotchkiss as distinguished. "He was just a real gentleman in the purest sense," he said.

Legendary Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who first shared office space in Calgary with Hotchkiss in 1959, issued a statement saying he has lost his best friend.

"I'm so glad that I came to Calgary a week ago to spend some time with Harley. It was a visit that I will never forget. I was struck by his energy, his commitment to see various projects through, and his desire to celebrate life," Pickens said.

Hotchkiss was inducted in 2006 into the Hockey Hall of Fame under the builder category. In 2009, he was promoted to a companion of the Order of Canada  — the highest honour in the country.

Hotchkiss was born in Tillsonburg, Ont.