When I first met Bob Wright, he jumped out of his business-class seat on an Air Canada jet at Toronto International Airport and kissed me on the cheek.
I had paused while boarding the Victoria-bound jet to ask if he was Bob. That grizzled chin was hard to mistake, but I had never seen the head of Oak Bay Marine Group in person. He was notoriously media-shy.
The kiss surprised me.
“Don’t be silly, you don’t know me,” I said.
In his younger years, he was known to chase skirts. But, goodness, seated next to him on the plane that day was his wife, Yun.
“Aren’t you Linda?” he asked me.
“No, I’m Sandra McCulloch from the Times Colonist and you never return our calls,” I snapped, and went back to find my seat in economy.
He hustled down the aisle and perched over the seat ahead of mine, eager to chat. That was the start of our friendship. We’d lunch at Bob’s booth at the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant and talk about life, health and happiness.
He told me about trying to save the baby orca named Miracle in the late 1970s. The injured whale had been rescued near Campbell River, and Bob had her trucked to the saltwater pool at the old Oak Bay Beach Hotel.
Bob would hang by the pool and watch her for hours, and rub his bare feet on the tiny whale’s back, enjoying how it seemed to comfort her.
Bob also talked about Tilikum, an adult male orca, one of the resident orcas at Sealand of the Pacific, Bob’s Oak Bay tourist attraction. In 1991, Tilikum dragged trainer Keltie Byrne into the pool and killed her.
Bob shut down Sealand shortly thereafter, and Tilikum was sent to SeaWorld in Florida, where he was blamed for two other deaths.
There was no maliciousness on the part of the whale, Bob said. The whale was playing, wanting people to visit his underwater world.
Bob’s earlier two marriages and a subsequent common-law relationship had soured, and he hadn’t been interested in getting into another relationship when friends introduced him to Yun.
Yun knew about running resorts because, at the time, she owned one in Nassau.
Bob’s eyes glistened as he talked about how his wife loved him and took care of him: “She treats me like a baby,” he said.
In 2009, I decided to sell my five-acre Cobble Hill farm.
“Don’t put any offers in without talking to me,” Bob instructed.
When I found a waterfront property, Bob drove up to check it out.
He arrived dressed in blue jeans, driving his big, black Mercedes. He walked the fields with me while giving me a lesson in real estate investment: Buy low, sell high.
I had the farm listed for about $600,000. Too low, Bob said. “List it for $800,000 and wait.”
When Bob saw the place I liked, he noted that the tide was falling. I asked how he could tell that by a simple glance and he pointed to the murky line of water at the beach and used some term I can’t remember now.
We returned to the farm and Bob told me he wasn’t impressed with the beach house. It was too expensive, he said. Not a good investment.
I went with my heart and put in an offer. A couple of months later, I called Bob to say hello — and that I’d bought the pricey place at the beach.
He seemed to respect that I made my own decision.
The Bob I knew was kind, charming and accommodating. I also knew there was another side to him. I knew he had a temper, and there are a lot of people who were his friends for a while, but weren’t around anymore.
Eventually, I saw the other side of his personality.
I really think he was trying to help me when he pointed out what he thought were flaws in my character, and I did what many former friends of Bob did. I took offence.
It was a fascinating ride, my friendship with Bob. He was an amazing man. There will be many stories told about him for many years to come.