A scientist and entrepreneur who founded one of Greater Victoria’s most durable global technology companies has died.
David J. Thomas was 71.
He co-founded AXYS Technologies, a Sidney-based company that develops environmental monitoring systems and assessments used in oceans and waterways around the world.
The noted chemist also co‑founded Lighthouse Brewing in 1998, helping Victoria’s fledgling craft-beer sector gain a foothold as one of Canada’s top small-brew destinations.
“He was an exceptional human being and absolutely brilliant,” said long-time friend Murray Rankin, a former Victoria MP. “He had this amazing ability to communicate with all walks of life — from the sophisticated scientist talking about parts per billion to people sitting in a bar talking about his beloved Maple Leafs.
“He loved people. He loved his work. He loved life. It’s a big loss.”
Thomas was born in Hamilton, Ont., and raised on a farm in Beamsville, Ont. A chemistry graduate at Queen’s University, he contributed to the success of AXYS and several Canadian and international scientific programs.
He led the expansion of environmental-monitoring services into Russia and the Czech Republic, which led to additional work in Europe, South America and the Caribbean.
But it was the Arctic where Thomas’s passion was most evident.
Over the past two decades, Thomas devoted his life to several scientific initiatives there.
He was a respected senior scientist participating in the international Arctic Council’s monitoring program related to heavy metals and oil and gas impacts.
Since 2005, Thomas served on the board of ArcticNet, a program dedicated to addressing climate change in the Canadian Arctic in partnership with Inuit, industry, academia and government. He was also the chair of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Amundsen Board since 2011.
AXYS chief executive PS Reilly said Thomas, the company’s chairman and one of three original founders, “is forever part of the DNA of AXYS.
“His spirit is behind our drive to identify meaningful problems and create innovative solutions, and our belief we are the kind of team that can make it happen,” Reilly said in a statement. “I have personally benefited from our friendship and his role as my chairman, and I will miss him immensely.”
Reilly said Thomas believed there were some fundamentals that were key to any successful venture. “To find good people, treat them with dignity and expect everyone to rise to their best selves and build something great. Our team will continue to honour Dave’s faith in us by holding our course, working hard and continue to deliver on the vision and path ahead of us,” she said.
Ralph Whitney of the department of chemistry at Queen’s University said Thomas gave back in many ways, most notably as an inaugural member of the Queen’s Chemistry Innovation Council, providing input on improving the quality of graduates.
Thomas is also being remembered for his amiability.
“I truly admired his amazing ability to explain scientific concepts in a way that made them accessible and then utterly fascinating,” said Rankin. “And I admired his love of life.”
Several employees who worked with Thomas at AXYS over the years shared stories of his sense of humour and his passion for environmental work.
Lighthouse Brewing said in a statement the company has “heavy hearts. … This is in incomprehensible loss for all of us at Lighthouse.”
Thomas is survived by his wife, Mary Beeching, brother, Peter Jr., children, Ben and Larissa, and granddaughter Everly Rosie.
Thomas was also active on volunteer and charity boards, including Pacific Opera and, most recently, Music By the Sea in Bamfield.
A memorial was held for Thomas on Saturday.
The family said a celebration of life will be held at a later date, when pandemic restrictions have eased.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Inuvik Food Bank at canadahelps.org/en/charities/inuvik-food-bank/