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Ron Joyce was 'ready to go,' but not before saying goodbye to dear Newfoundland friend

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-02-02 CBC/Radio-Canada
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(Provided by Global News)

Ron Joyce, the entrepreneur who teamed up with a hockey star to spread the country's most legendary coffee empire across Canada in the 1960s, died Thursday — but not before making sure he said goodbye to an old friend in Newfoundland.

Elaine Dobbin, a Portugal Cove-St Philips woman who knew Joyce through her family's business connections, said Joyce always kept in touch.

a man sitting on a table: Tim Hortons founders Ron Joyce, left, and Tim Horton became full partners in the business in 1967. Joyce, a former Hamilton police officer, oversaw the company's expansion after Horton's death in 1974. © Courtesy of Tim Hortons Tim Hortons founders Ron Joyce, left, and Tim Horton became full partners in the business in 1967. Joyce, a former Hamilton police officer, oversaw the company's expansion after Horton's death in 1974. When he called her Monday, she said, it was one of the last times they would speak.

"He knew his time was near. He wanted to say goodbye. We chatted for a bit, about his life and the many good times we had," Dobbin said.

"It's a sad day. He was a very generous, full-of-life individual. Always had a glass of something in his hand."

Newt Gingrich in a red cup: The Canadian Press © The Canadian Press The Canadian Press

Joyce was born in Tatamagouche, N.S., in 1930, and left for Ontario at 15. He started the first Tim Hortons franchise with a $10,000 loan from a credit union. 

By the time he died, the restaurant he helped to grow was valued in the billions. But that success never seemed to sink in, Dobbin said.

"He said to me numerous times, 'Not bad for a fella from Tatamagouche​, is it?'

"He still had to pinch himself that it was all real."

Also watch: Tim Hortons co-founder dead at 88 (Provided by CityNews)

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Life of charity

Joyce lived generously, Dobbin recalled. He started the Tim Hortons Children's Foundation to send children from low-income families to summer camp.

One day a year, 100 per cent of proceeds from coffee sales at Tim Hortons locations goes to funding the seven camps, which include one in the United States and one in Joyce's hometown.

a little boy wearing a blue shirt: CBC © CBC CBC

That charitable streak even took root in Newfoundland, when Dobbin said she challenged Joyce to double her contribution to Memorial University in St. John's.

He donated $8 million to the school, she said, and gave yearly to the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Not only did he do well, he remembered everybody as well. He didn't start off with much in life, but he remembered to give back," she said.

'Ready to go'

In 1996, Joyce sold his business to Wendy's International in a deal worth $400 million. In 2014, Tim Hortons was bought by another U.S. fast food giant, Burger King, for $12 billion.

Alongside amassing a fortune, he also encountered trouble late in life. In 2013, a woman sued him for $7.5 million, alleging he sexually assaulted her in his Burlington home. Joyce denied that, claiming the woman was extorting him. The case is ongoing.

a man in a kitchen: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris

Last year, his son and daughter, heirs to his fortune and owners of a number of Tim Hortons franchises themselves, came under fire for cutting paid breaks and benefits from employees in Ontario after a planned minimum wage increase from $11.60 to $14 an hour. 

But in the days before he died, Dobbin said, Joyce thought only of the people he loved.

"He was ready to go," she said. "He wanted to go, and he wanted to say goodbye."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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