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Arthur L. Irving, Billionaire Canadian Oilman, Dies at 93


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  • His company, Irving Oil, owns more than 900 gas stations
  • ‘He’ll be considered one of the great oilmen in North America’
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Arthur L. Irving, the Canadian billionaire who modernized the nation’s largest refinery, expanded a network of service stations bearing his family’s name and helped win support for a cross-country oil pipeline, has died. He was 93.

Irving died on Monday surrounded by his wife, Sandra, and daughter, Sarah, Irving Oil Ltd. said on its website.

Son of industrialist Kenneth Colin Irving, Arthur Irving was chairman of closely held Irving Oil, which owns the refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

By reinvesting profits, Irving kept his facility running as competitors were shutting down. While seeking to avoid the spotlight, he was a prominent Canadian business figure at the helm of one of the dominant employers in the economically challenged Atlantic provinces.

“He’ll be considered one of the great oilmen in North America,” Frank McKenna, the Toronto-Dominion Bank deputy chairman who was a Canadian ambassador to the US, said in a 2015 interview. “He has created, within a generation, an oil refinery that is easily Canada’s largest, most complex and most sophisticated and one of the most sophisticated in North America.”

Billionaire Brothers

Irving had a net worth of about $9.8 billion as of May 10, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His older brother, James Irving, who is 96 and led related family businesses in forestry, transportation, frozen foods and shipbuilding, is worth an estimated $7.1 billion. John Irving, the youngest of the three brothers, died in 2010.

The family’s Canadian East Coast business empire was started in 1882 by the siblings’ grandfather, James Dergavel Irving.

Under Arthur Irving’s watch, Irving Oil in 1998 undertook a C$1 billion (then worth about $670 million) refinery upgrade and later bought marine terminals along the US Eastern Seaboard to boost gasoline, diesel and heating-oil sales in the country. He widened the company’s footprint of service stations to about 900 locations in Eastern Canada and New England.

Partnerships have been a component of Irving’s business strategy. With Repsol SA, Irving Oil developed a liquefied natural gas import facility in Saint John that started receiving shipments in 2009. The same year, Irving Oil and BP Plc shelved plans to develop a second, C$8 billion ($5.9 billion) refinery in the city, amid a global economic decline and softening of demand for transportation fuels in North America.

The company last year said it was reviewing strategic options that may include putting billions of dollars worth of its North American refining and fuel-distribution assets up for sale. Other options include a change in the portfolio of its assets and how it operates them, the company said at the time.

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Oil Pipeline

Irving helped garner support in 2013 for a C$12 billion oil pipeline proposed by TC Energy Corp. to ship crude from Alberta to the Atlantic Coast and abroad. To facilitate crude exports from the line, Irving Oil agreed to operate a marine terminal in Saint John as a co-owner. The project was eventually scrapped.

The family-owned businesses in sectors including oil refining, forestry, shipbuilding, trucking and newspapers “are small companies trying to compete with the big boys,” Irving once said, according to Citizens Irving, the 1991 book by John DeMont that profiled Kenneth Colin Irving and his family.

Approached at a charity dinner in Saint John by a Bloomberg reporter in 2014, Irving downplayed his company’s importance while declining an interview request. “Ah, we’re just little guys up here,” he said.

Long Hours

Like his brothers, Arthur was known to be tireless in his work, rising at 5:30 a.m. each day and often not returning home until midnight. He differed from his kin in both his charisma and short fuse, DeMont said in an interview.

Arthur Irving was born on July 14, 1930, in New Brunswick. His mother was the former Harriet McNairn.

Along with his brothers, he attended a private boys’ school in a suburb of Saint John and all three went on to study at Acadia University. Like the others, he never completed his degree, a record that didn’t prevent him from becoming Acadia’s longest-serving chancellor after accepting the position in 1996.

He started working at Irving Oil in 1951 and became president in 1972, a title his son Kenneth Irving held afterward. A rift between father and son left Kenneth Irving cut out of the family and its business. The company named Arthur Irving’s daughter, Sarah Irving, executive vice president in 2015.

Irving had surgery for prostate cancer in 1999, according to a report by Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which cited an unidentified company official.

He had his daughter Sarah with his second wife, the former Sandra Ring. Apart from Kenneth, the children from his first marriage, to the former Joan Carlisle, included Arthur, Jennifer and Emily.

— With assistance from Lisa Beyer



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