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Tributes remember J.K. Irving for his business, community contributions

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James K. Irving is being remembered as a legend in Canadian business while championing causes close to New Brunswick.

Irving died on Friday at the age of 96 in Saint John. 

Harvey Sawler wrote a book about the Irving family in 2007, and worked directly with J.K. Irving in the 1990s as part of work to restore the Bouctouche Dunes

Sawler said the billionaire had a knack for relating to everyone who was around him, regardless of his high profile.

“He had that ability to treat people that were not of his standing financially and economically as just another person in the room,” said Sawler, in an interview with CTV on Saturday.

Irving, who was notorious for declining interview requests, suddenly agreed to participate in Sawler's book a year into the project. Sawler remembered one meeting where he was flown to Bouctouche on the J.D. Irving plane, and then driven around the area by K.C. Irving himself.

"His intent was to make sure the Irving genealogy made it into this book," said Sawler. "There were three prior generations before K.C. and he wanted that known."

During that afternoon drive, Sawler said he witnessed how he interacted with one employee, and how the employee interacted with him.

"I was struck by the authority that Mr. Irving had in speaking with this person, but there was an authority and kindness at the same time," said Sawler. "So I was sitting in the car watching this, and it was a lesson in how he built up respect from all levels of the company."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a written statement after Friday's announcement, which read: “Mr. Irving was a job creator for his province and across the country. Under his leadership, J.D. Irving became one of Canada’s top employers – and Mr. Irving became a symbol of Canadian entrepreneurship and philanthropy."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Irving left "an indelible mark" on the province.

"He was well aware of the contributions the thousands of his employees made to the success of his businesses," said Higgs, in a written statement. "Throughout his career, J.K. contributed to the improvement and well being of communities and organizations throughout our province and beyond."

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said J.K. Irving’s leadership in business extended to benefit the community as a whole.

“J.K. spearheaded the internationally acclaimed PALS program (Partners Assisting Local Schools), which became a best-practice model for uniting businesses, community organizations, and schools to enhance educational and life opportunities for children,” said Reardon, in a statement. “He leaves behind a lasting legacy in Saint John and beyond.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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