Hamilton philanthropist Michael DeGroote dies at 89
Michael DeGroote, one of Hamilton’s most influential philanthropists and a self-made billionaire considered one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs in Canadian history, has died at the age of 89.
DeGroote is the namesake of McMaster University’s medical school to which he donated $105 million in 2003, at the time the largest philanthropic cash gift of its kind ever made in Canada, and which took the school’s flagship program to a new level.
He also donated an additional $50 million in 2014 to the medical school and $3 million in seed funding to launch the DeGroote School of Business in 1992.
DeGroote had three sons and a daughter, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, according to an obituary posted online in The Spectator. He passed away on Monday September 12.
“He will be remembered for his ingenuity, his compassion, his courage and his sense of humor!” read the obituary.
DeGroote’s passing completes another chapter in Hamilton’s larger-than-life philanthropic history, following the deaths of Ron Joyce (2019), David Braley (2020) and Charles Juravinski (February 2022).
“We have lost an icon, a titan of the industry,” said Ron Foxcroft, Hamilton philanthropist and owner and CEO of Fluke Transportation Group.
“We have now lost three leaders and legends in Hamilton, all of whom were supporters of our health care system and our educational institutions.”
Like Juravinski and Joyce, DeGroote never finished high school and grew up in poverty. He eventually became a billionaire and gave back a lot.
“Someone once said it’s not hard to make money, but it’s much harder to make a difference — I hope so,” DeGroote told an audience at Burlington, after receiving an award for entrepreneurship.
Michael George DeGroote was born August 13, 1933 in West Flanders, Belgium, 70 kilometers east of Dunkirk, France, where seven years later 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated across the English Channel during World War II. world.
In 1948, three years after the war, DeGroote was 14 when his family immigrated to Canada. They settled in the town of Langton, 80 kilometers southeast of London, halfway between Tillsonburg and Long Point.
Rather than going to school, to support his family, he worked in the tobacco fields in the area. At 18, he bought an old army truck and worked transporting manure to tobacco plantations.
In 1959 he bought a small trucking company in Hagersville, south of Hamilton, called Laidlaw Transport Ltd. company in North America.
He had earned his first million at the age of 28.
DeGroote, owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1974 to 1978, sold Laidlaw in 1988 for $500 million to Canadian Pacific. Two years later, he retired to a town called Hamilton, Bermuda, but didn’t move for long.
“I spent three boring months in Bermuda and watched too many soap operas,” DeGroote said of that time. “I decided right away that it was time to get back to work.”
He engaged in more business ventures, added to his fortune, and embraced philanthropy.
Among the Hamilton institutions he supported was Hillfield Strathallan College on Fennell Avenue West, which donated $10.5 million in 2009 to the private school.
The Viewer reported that by the end of the 1970s, DeGroote had retired from most of his business activities due to health issues; he had suffered a stroke in 2001.
“I’ve lived a very lucky life,” he says. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but it was never without excitement.”
In 1990 DeGroote was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1992 he received an honorary degree from McMaster University.
At the time, university president Geraldine Kenney-Wallace said DeGroote was “widely recognized as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Canadian history.”
In his speech to McMaster students after receiving the honor, DeGroote, then 58, said he regretted never completing his studies.
“I did it the hard way and wasted a lot of time, a lot of money and made a lot of unnecessary mistakes.”
And then, listing his tips for success, DeGroote cited a determination to succeed, setting goals and a methodology to achieve them, and a willingness to “do whatever it takes” to live his dream.
“If you want to accomplish twice as much, you may have to work three times as hard and you have to be prepared to make monumental personal commitments,” he said.
DeGroote resided in Bermuda for more than 30 years, and the obituary said he loved spending time with his family “whether on the beaches of Naples or the shores of Bermuda or cruising across the oceans of the world. entire”.
Although no date has been announced, the obituary indicates that DeGroote’s funeral will be held in his hometown of Langton.
Foxcroft said DeGroote had long been a mentor to him, as well as a friend and tennis partner.
“He was tough and firm and fair, and very generous in the community,” he said. “He was a very serious man, but he also had a cheeky sense of humor.”
He recalls an exchange he had with DeGroote, after the billionaire finally retired, and occasionally lived in a hotel residence in Toronto’s Yorkville.
“I said to him: Michael, now that you are finally retired and comfortable, what do you do? And he said, “I’m sitting here eating ice cream and looking at the scenery.”