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Obituary: As head of tourism association, Lorne Whyte helped put Victoria on world map

Colleagues and friends said he was instrumental in making Victoria a destination for tourists from around the world.
Lorne Whyte served as president and CEO of Tourism Victoria from 1989 to the end of 2007. SUBMITTED

Lorne Whyte, who served as chief executive of Tourism Victoria for two decades and is credited with marketing the region as a national and global destination for visitors, died on Monday after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Whyte was 80.

“Lorne was a class act, a genuinely kind and thoughtful man who did so much for the tourism industry — he really made it what is is today,” said long-time friend Frank Bourree, a tourism consultant for several decades in Victoria. “He had an ear for everyone and was a strong mentor for so many.”

A tireless supporter of the city, Whyte also founded the long-running TerrifVic Jazz Party, where he would open each show with his trademark welcome: “Let the good times roll, Victoria!”

Randy Wright of Harbour Air said Whyte’s drive and enthusiasm for the city helped the tourism industry grow at an incredible rate. Whyte was on the dock to welcome the company when it brought its first three planes in, he said, adding it now has 50 planes.

“He got things done,” said Wright. “He was a hard worker and always a gentleman.”

Whyte served as president and CEO of Tourism Victoria from 1989 to the end of 2007. When he first took the helm, tourism represented a $500-million industry in Victoria. At the end of 2007, tourism revenue had soared to $1.23 billion.

Whyte was named the province’s Tourism Industry Leader for the Year in 2007, an award given to an individual who makes “significant contributions” to B.C.’s tourism industry over the years.

At the time, Whyte downplayed the accolade. “I think it’s just recognition for someone who’s been involved in the tourism industry for a long time, but I really think of it as a team award … everybody earned this,” he said. “It’s recognition of an organization … having the right people and creating the kind of work environment that makes people stay.”

Rod Harris, then CEO of Tourism B.C., said Whyte had a “team-building approach” that served the region well.

“Lorne made a contribution for 20 years of his life in taking Victoria as a fledgling organization to creating Victoria as an icon destination globally,” said Harris.

Whyte was instrumental in negotiating a hotel tax in Victoria — an extra 2% on guests’ bills to fund additional marketing in the region. “He was always there at the table with the province, getting things done for Victoria,” said Wright. “He really opened up tourism here.”

Bourree said Whyte had an ability “to bring people together and get things done,” laying much of the foundation for Victoria to become a global destination.

“Real community boosters like Lorne just don’t come around every day,” said Bourree.

Whyte was operating the Shop Easy grocery store on Cook Street when Keith Dagg convinced him to work for CFAX Radio in sales.

“He was so good at it because he was so good with people,” said Dagg. “He was a real star, the type of guy you really wanted to be around.

“He always had the big smile. There were never any negatives in Lorne. He was positive about everything.”

After CFAX, Whyte went on to run Visitor Publications, The Victorian newspaper and Pacific Northwest Tourism Services, all promoting Victoria, for 19 years before joining Tourism Victoria.

He also served on the 2010 Olympic bid committee for British Columbia and was a member of the Victoria Jaycees for 15 years.

After retiring from Tourism Victoria, Whyte continued his community work with the Tall Ships Society in 2008, before taking on the executive director position in 2009 at the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, which gives families and children with life-threatening conditions a chance of a dream trip.

His family said Whyte enjoyed golfing, boating, fishing, walks with his children, dancing to live jazz and life’s simple pleasures.

The family said friends, colleagues, caregivers and other community members who knew Whyte could honour him by “enjoying the heart of his career and the place he called home, Victoria.”

Whyte is survived by his children: Deva Khalsa; Cheryl Paddack and husband Mark; Darren Whyte; Paul Coyle and wife Kiley; and Lisa Roberts; as well as grandchildren Rhye and Megan Paddack and Guru Dev and Prabhu Jot Khalsa.

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