Kal Tire founder Tom Foord fondly remembered for his local legacy

Local philanthropist Tom Foord, member of the Order of British Columbia, died Thursday, one month shy of his 90th birthday...

Tom Foord

Tom Foord

Vernon has lost a legend.

Tom Foord, founder of Kal Tire and a passionate philanthropist, died Thursday, one month short of his 90th birthday.

“He has strong family values and came from a small town,” said Archie Stroh, a former Kal Tire senior vice-president, of Foord’s giving nature.

A native of Instow, Sask., Foord came to Vernon in 1945, the hometown of his wife Norah. They met while they were both in the military in Newfoundland during the Second World War.

In 1953, he founded Kal Tire and through hard work and perseverance, the company expanded. It is now Canada’s largest independent tire dealership, with 4,600 employees in 20 countries.

“He was a huge long-term thinker,” said Stroh.

“He believed in customer service and he was a team builder.”

Foord always insisted there was a specific reason for Kal Tire’s success.

“It’s as simple as the people here. I have done a good job of selecting people to work with me and that’s got us where we are today,” he said in 2005.

Foord’s roles shifted from Kal Tire president to chairman in 2005, with son-in-law Ken Finch taking on the presidency. In 2009, Finch became chairman and Foord’s son Robert was promoted to president.

While he was always focused on the business, Foord’s influence in the community flourished.

“Vernon has always had a special place in my heart. The least I can do is pay it back for some of the things the community did for me,” he said in a 2007 interview.

He played a critical role in developing the People Place, which provides non-profit agencies with affordable space. He also rallied behind the North Okanagan Neurological Association’s plans for a new child development centre.

“He guided us and opened doors to a lot of people for us,” said Janice Foster, NONA president.

“I can’t say enough about what he, his family and Kal Tire have done for the community. There probably isn’t a non-profit that hasn’t benefitted from their generosity.”

Other organizations supported by Foord included the North Okanagan Hospice Society, United Way, the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation and the North Okanagan Community Life Society.

Foord’s business and community accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed.

He received the Freedom of the City — Vernon’s highest honour — in 2007 and was named to B.C.’s Business Laureates Hall of Fame in 2006.

He also received the Order of B.C. in 2000 and had honourary doctorates from Okanagan College and Royal Roads University. He is also in the halls of fame for the Western Canadian Tire Dealers Association and the Tire Industry Association.

“He was never looking for publicity but in his quiet way he was a contributor to the community,” said Lyall Hanson, a family friend and former mayor.

“He was always a very loyal person to Vernon.”

Foord was predeceased by his wife Norah Feb. 25 after 68 years of marriage. He is survived by his children Jean, Colin, Nancy, Janet and Robert, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Details on a service were not known at press time.