Prominent Canadian businessman Purdy Crawford dies at 82
Purdy Crawford poses for a photograph in Toronto in this January 2009 file photo. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, August 12, 2014 3:48PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 12, 2014 6:13PM EDT
TORONTO -- Purdy Crawford, a lawyer and a businessman who once headed Montreal-based Imasco Ltd., died Tuesday at age 82.
Crawford's death was confirmed by the Toronto legal firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt where Crawford began as a corporate lawyer in the 1950s before leaving to pursue a career with Imasco Ltd., a company that, at the time, owned Imperial Tobacco, Canada Trust and Shoppers Drug Mart.
He later returned to Osler as an elder statesman, while also remaining active in corporate circles.
Stephen Smith, who is now the Toronto-based firm's co-chairman, described Crawford as a brilliant man who was never boastful and always generous with his time as a mentor.
"He had a wonderful understated manner that was so instructive to watch. Just a mentor in all respects. It was a real treat for me as a junior lawyer to work with him and learn from him," Smith said in an interview.
"You know, I don't think he ever lost his Nova Scotia roots."
Crawford was a native of Five Islands, N.S. He graduated from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., Dalhousie Law School in Halifax and Harvard Law School. As a partner with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, he practised primarily corporate and commercial law. He returned to the firm in 2000 after formally retiring from Imasco.
Smith said Crawford took pride in advancing the careers of women in the legal profession and established a team-based, client-focused culture that continues to be the style at Osler.
"I think he liked to come here and see that that legacy was continuing, perhaps checking up on us in the next generation to see that we didn't lose sight of what he had set as a goal for this firm."
Crawford joined Imasco in 1985 as its president and chief operating officer before taking on the company's top job as CEO from 1987 to 1995. He remained a non-executive chairman of Imasco Ltd, CT Financial Services Inc. and Canada Trustco Mortgage Company until his retirement on Feb. 1, 2000.
TD Bank chief executive Ed Clark, who headed Canada Trust Financial Services when it was sold to Toronto-Dominion in 2000, said Crawford helped many people with their careers in good times and bad.
"He was a leader in business, a wise counsellor to many and, at the same time, someone who also understood and promoted good public policy. An extraordinary human being," Clark said in an emailed statement.
Crawford was active throughout his 70s.
In 2005-2006, he headed an Ontario government panel of corporate leaders that recommended that Canada adopt a single, national securities regulator -- an idea that was later supported by the late Jim Flaherty while he was federal finance minister.
Crawford was later called upon to head the Pan-Canadian committee from 2007 until 2009. The committee was set up by the major institutional investors to salvage about $32 billion invested in a type of short-term note, commonly called asset-backed commercial paper, that couldn't be redeemed. But he also worked to reduce the impact on individuals who had invested in the securities.
In an interview, Crawford said it wasn't until the committee embarked on a three-day whirlwind tour to talk to retail investors in March 2008 that he understood just how many average Canadians were affected by the frozen assets.
"We started in Toronto, and it wasn't so obvious there," Crawford said while the ABCP crisis was still unfolding.
The numbers grew when they moved on to Montreal and Edmonton, but it was a passionate gathering in Vancouver that left a big impression on the lawyer.
"The place was packed. And yes, I think it was good for those investors to have a face to talk to. I saw the anger, the frustration," Crawford said.
While Crawford's plan ultimately received the approval of an overwhelming majority of noteholders, some investors accused his committee of muddling the process for ordinary people who had put their savings into the commercial paper.