Bob Wright, founder of Oak Bay Marine Group and philanthropist, dies at 82

Oak Bay Marine Group founder and philanthropist Bob Wright has died at age 82.

A visionary entrepreneur who never backed away from a battle, Wright, who had heart problems, died Wednesday in Royal Jubilee Hospital. His wife, Yun Kloihofer, was with him.

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Wright called himself a “gumboot fisherman” but that did not reflect his success in carving out an empire based on sport fishing, resorts and adventure tourism in B.C., as well as tourist attractions in the U.S.

He started his empire in 1962, providing a place for pleasure boats to dock at his Oak Bay Marina.

Friends say he was passionate about his business, which operated from headquarters on Beach Drive in Oak Bay. They describe him as relentless, kind, larger-than-life, a mentor to many, hard-working, creative and stubborn.

Wright was a founding member in 1964 of the influential regional sport fishing advisory board. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans was frequently a target of his in battles over how best to manage salmon stocks.

In 2007, he donated $11 million to the University of Victoria for the Bob Wright Centre — Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It was the right thing to do because where I made the millions was from the ocean, so why not give it back?” he said at the time.

Son Randy Wright said of his father: “We had our challenges, he and I, but with all that said, he was an amazing man and mentor to all of us. We all learned a tremendous amount from him.”

Bob Wright served as an alderman on Victoria city council from 1976 to 1980. Newspaper reports paint an often stormy picture of his time on council, whether he was fighting to save heritage homes, crafting a plan for commercial uses of vacant downtown space, or opposing a design for a new coast guard station in James Bay.

He was a Capital Regional District director, chaired committees for the city and region, was a director of B.C. Ferry Corp. and the B.C. Steamship Co., a member of the Rotary Club of Victoria, belonged to the Explorers Club in New York, and was named to the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame in 2011.

Many Victoria residents had their first paying job working for Wright.

His company holdings include the Oak Bay Marina on Beach Drive, Pedder Bay RV Resort and Marina in Metchosin, North Saanich Marina, Ladysmith Marina, Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, April Point Resort and Spa and April Point Marina on Quadra Island, the Canadian Princess Resort at Ucluelet and Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort in the Bahamas.

Also part of the group are Pacific Undersea Gardens in Victoria Harbour, and Oregon Undersea Gardens, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Wax Works, all in Newport, Oregon.

Devon Properties founder Rob Hunter lunched with Wright twice a month to talk business in what was called “Bob’s Booth” in the Oak Bay Marina restaurant.

“Bob was a wonderful visionary and he always used to say, ‘I’m just a fisherman selling hooks for five cents,’ ” Hunter said of his friend of 25 years. “He really did start with nothing and build an empire.”

To the end of his life, Wright was still thinking about the next project as he developed plans for Pedder Bay and Ladysmith marinas, Hunter said. “Bob was bigger than life.”

Wright is survived by Yun, children Ronald, Randy and Robin and six grandchildren.

A celebration of life is planned; details are being arranged.

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