Saunders Subaru sold to Jim Pattison Auto Group

Automobile dealer Bob Saunders, well known for his philanthropy and as a community advocate, is saying goodbye to the car business after 36 years.

Saunders Subaru has been sold to the Jim Pattison Auto Group, which will lease the building and land at 1784 Island Highway in Colwood.

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The sale closes a chapter in the lives of Bob and Norma Saunders, who have worked at the dealership six days a week for nearly four decades. Norma arrives at 7 a.m. and Bob comes in after a fitness workout at Royal Roads University, said son David Saunders. He was speaking on behalf of his 81-year-old father, who declined an interview Wednesday saying he was feeling emotional about the sale.

“We are all fairly emotional about it. It is a very, very big decision,” David Saunders said.

David and his sisters Edie and Ruth will stay for three months to help with the transition. The existing staff of 25 are remaining.

Bob Saunders has won awards for sales and service and the business is marking three consecutive years of record sales figures.

In the capital region, Saunders is known for tireless support of charities and community initiatives over the decades. “I believe in giving back to the community,” Saunders said in a 2006 interview with the Times Colonist.

The dealership loans vehicles to families with children coping with cancer to help with travel to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

A sign in front of the dealership makes community announcements such as birthday news in return for donations to the Help Fill a Dream Foundation. Those programs will continue under the Pattison Group.

Organizations that have benefitted from Saunders’ support include art and theatre programs, Chamber of Commerce events and youth sports. The Salvation Army, Cops for Cancer, Victoria Hospice and the Victoria Firefighters Burn Unit have also received backing from Saunders.

Saunders has worked with the local school district to offer scholarships and work experience to high school students. He has also taken part in Earth Day activities and went out to nearby streets to pick up trash.

Saunders is a familiar figure at Royal Roads University. He popped by on Wednesday morning with a representative from Jim Pattison Auto Group to introduce Royal Roads president Allan Cahoon. That was just latest of many introductions in the nine years that Cahoon has known Saunders.

Saunders and son David have been “committed and concerned and interested in Royal Roads,” said Cahoon said. Saunders has backed entrepreneurship and business programs and chaired an anniversary gala last year.

“Every community could use a Bob Saunders,” then-Colwood mayor Jody Twa said a decade ago. “He does an incredible amount of work in support of various projects, especially sports.”

Born in Duncan in 1935, Saunders worked at his father’s automotive business during the Great Depression, according to a writeup from Royal Roads University, where Saunders was honoured in 2010 with the Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award.

He married Norma in 1956 and they have five children.

Saunders was a pipefitter and welder on ships and mills when the children were young. “This work kept him away from home so he decided to go back to the car business to be closer to family and community,” the university said.

He started working in sales and opened his own used-car lot on the Island Highway in Colwood prior to launching Saunders Subaru.

The couple will now focus on other businesses they have and on the Saunders Family Foundation, David Saunders said.

“A long-time decision was made easier by the respect and support we have been shown by The Jim Pattison Group,” Bob Saunders said in a statement.

“It is important to me and my family that the success of Saunders Subaru lives on, and Jim Pattison and Bill Harbottle [auto group president] have shown that we share the same values regarding local community, customer service, quality as well as a commitment to Subaru.”

The sale strengthens Jim Pattison’s presence in the capital region. He already owns Jim Pattison Toyota Victoria and Jim Pattison Volvo of Victoria. He is an investor in Vancouver Island-based Quality Foods. Pattison has been in the automobile business since 1961.

This will be Pattison’s fifth Subaru location in western Canada and his auto group is the largest Subaru retailer in Canada.

Pattison said that his team would continue the Saunders “legacy of excellence, strong values and community support.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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