‘You were a one-off ’

Mourn­ers say good­bye to prom­i­nent Al­berta busi­ness­man Ron South­ern

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES -

Mourn­ers gath­ered at a rid­ing arena de­scribed as his “cathe­dral” to say good­bye Thurs­day to a prom­i­nent Al­berta busi­ness­man who founded one of the world’s top eques­trian venues.

Ron South­ern, who died last week at age 85, es­tab­lished Spruce Mead­ows in Cal­gary with his wife Mar­garet in 1975.

Spruce Mead­ows has be­come a fix­ture for the best rid­ers and horses. The eques­trian world’s gov­ern­ing body has named the fa­cil­ity the world’s top showjump­ing venue mul­ti­ple times.

South­ern’s daugh­ter, Linda South­ern-Heath­cott, re­mem­bered her father as a man who saw the good in oth­ers and taught his fam­ily to al­ways do their best.

“Dad, my prom­ise to you is that Nancy and I — along with your team — will keep the tra­di­tions alive. We will keep the high­est of stan­dards, have the courage to make the right choices no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult and we will sol­dier on.”

South­ern’s cof­fin, sit­ting at the front of the rid­ing hall, was cov­ered in red roses. Some of his awards, in­clud­ing the Or­der of Canada, could be seen in one of the build­ing’s walk­ways.

More than 2,000 peo­ple at­tended the two-hour ser­vice. Dig­ni­taries who came to pay their re­spects in­cluded for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper, in­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader Rona Am­brose, Al­berta Premier Rachel Not­ley, Veter­ans Affairs Min­is­ter Kent Hehr and for­mer Bank of Canada gov­er­nor David Dodge.

Ian Mil­lar, an Olympic and Pan Amer­i­can Games medal­list, de­liv­ered one of the tributes and cred­ited the South­erns and Spruce Mead­ows for mak­ing Canada a force in the sport of show jump­ing.

He re­mem­bered a spe­cial mo­ment when South­ern held a cer­e­mony when Mil­lar’s long­time horse, Big Ben, re­tired.

“The day con­cluded with the pre­sen­ta­tion to Big Ben of a blan­ket to wear in his re­tire­ment. The words on the blan­ket said, ‘ Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Big Ben,” Mil­lar said.

“I say right back at you, R.D., ‘Thanks for the mem­o­ries.’ You were a one-off. There will never be an­other R.D.”

The choice of the rid­ing hall seemed ap­pro­pri­ate, Spruce Mead­ows vice-pres­i­dent Ian Al­li­son had said be­fore the ser­vice.

“It’s Mr. South­ern’s cathe­dral. It’s where he spent count­less hours wel­com­ing peo­ple from around the world, teach­ing them about his world of the horse.”

South­ern and his father also started the Atco Group in 1947. It was first known as the Al­berta Trailer Com­pany and grew from a 15-trailer op­er­a­tion to an in­ter­na­tional con­glom­er­ate with in­ter­ests rang­ing from con­struc­tion trail­ers to pipe­lines to nat­u­ral gas dis­tri­bu­tion.

South­ern was also the founder and con­trol­ling share­holder of Akita Drilling.

Forbes busi­ness mag­a­zine pegged South­ern’s net worth at $1.5 bil­lion last year.

Daugh­ter Nancy South­ern said her father loved his fam­ily and ev­ery­one he had deal­ings with over the years.

“If you lis­ten care­fully, you will hear him say­ing to each of us: al­ways do your best, al­ways strive for ex­cel­lence and thank you ev­ery­one for help­ing us to make our dreams come true.”

CP PHOTO

Nancy South­ern pays trib­ute to her father, busi­ness mag­nate and Spruce Mead­ows co-founder Ron South­ern at a cel­e­bra­tion of his life at Spruce Mead­ows in Cal­gary, Alta., Thurs­day.

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