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"VEZ" 2003 Obituary


VÉZINA o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-07-14 published
Philanthropist extraordinaire
Francophone students were among the many beneficiaries of her generosity
By Randy RAY Special to The Globe and Mail Monday, July 14, 2003 - Page R7
Ottawa -- Before he died in February, 1993, millionaire Baxter RICARD urged his wife Alma to spend the couple's fortune wisely. ''Put it back into the community, " he told her. ''Spend it well.'' Mrs. RICARD did not let her husband down.
In the 10 years following the death of Mr. RICARD, who owned a chain of radio, television and cable stations in Northern Ontario, she earned a reputation as one of Canada's most generous philanthropists, highlighted by a $23-million donation in 1998 to a fellowship fund that promotes higher education to francophone students across the country.
Mrs. RICARD, who was born in Montreal on October 4, 1906, died at her home in Sudbury on June 2. She was 96.
To date, the Ottawa-based Fondation Baxter and Alma Ricard has given 81 students a total of $4.2-million to further their postsecondary education. Other beneficiaries of the couple's generosity have included colleges, hospitals, church groups and universities in Sudbury and Toronto.
''Mrs. RICARD is one of the biggest philanthropists in Canada," said Alain LANDRY, executive director of the foundation, which was formed in 1988 to distribute the RICARDs' money to various charitable causes. The fellowship fund was set up a decade later.
Mrs. RICARD, formerly Alma VÉZINA, moved to Sudbury in 1931 after responding to a job advertisement from a hardware store run by Félix RICARD, father of Baxter RICARD. She was trained as a secretary at the time.
''She took the train and arrived at 4 a.m.," says Mr. LANDRY. ''In those days, a young lady was not to be seen with a man going to a hotel, so she and Baxter went to a church where they sat until daylight, and she fell in love with him.'' She worked as an administrative assistant to the elder Mr. RICARD and eventually married Baxter, who in later years inherited his father's hardware store and ran it with the help of his wife.
In 1947, the RICARDs left the hardware business and began building a broadcasting empire in Northern Ontario, starting with two radio stations in Sudbury and growing to include numerous radio and television stations. Radio stations established by the couple included CHNO, the first bilingual radio station in Ontario, CFBR and CJMX-FM.
In 1974, when cable television started to expand, Baxter RICARD and some colleagues obtained a licence for cable distribution in northern and eastern Ontario and created Northern Cable Holdings Ltd., which served the greater Sudbury area and areas as far north as Hearst, Ontario In 1980, the company acquired two television stations to serve the same areas and gave it the name Mid-Canada Television. Mr. RICARD also had an interest in a Toronto cable-television company.
Alma RICARD was her husband's ''right-hand person" and took an active part in the broadcasting business and all other ventures he was involved in, including the city-planning committee in Sudbury, the board of directors at Sudbury General Hospital and the Central Canada Broadcasting Association. ''They were inseparable in all those activities," says Mr. LANDRY.
Like Felix RICARD, Baxter and Alma RICARD were strong believers in a Canadian mosaic that included French-speaking citizens. In an era when Ontario's francophones were not permitted to study in French, Felix RICARD didn't have the financial means to promote the francophone culture and lobby for French schooling, so he became an outspoken trustee on the local school board.
As a trustee, he was ''a defender of the rights of francophones in matters of French education... [who] made significant gains for the francophone population of that region. A school in Sudbury bears his name," says a document obtained from Fondation Baxter & Alma Ricard. Baxter and Alma RICARD, on the other hand, made millions in the broadcasting industry and had the financial wherewithal to further the francophone cause, including the struggle for a quality education for French-speaking Ontarians.
''Baxter had no family and the couple had no children so they had to think of who would inherit their money," says André LACROIX of Sudbury, a lawyer, business associate and long-time friend of the RICARDs. ''Fairly early in the game they realized most of their assets should be used for charitable purposes. That's when they developed the idea of a charitable foundation.'' In its initial years after Mr. RICARD's death, the foundation donated $600,000 to Cambrian College and $1-million each to Sudbury General Hospital, the University of Sudbury, and Laurentian University, all in Sudbury, and a total of more than $4-million to the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
In the early 1990s, the RICARDs and their associates sold their radio and television stations to Baton Broadcasting and their cable distribution company to CFCF Ltd. In 1998, on the strength of money reaped from the sale, the fellowship fund was started and aimed specifically at francophone Canadians living permanently in a minority situation outside of Quebec who need money to advance their studies beyond a bachelor's degree.
Based on Baxter RICARD's idea, the fund was created jointly by businessman Paul DESMARAIS Sr., now chairman of the executive committee of management and holding company Power Corporation of Canada. Mr. DESMARAIS and Mr. LACROIX, plus Paul DESMARAIS Jr., are members of the board of directors of Fondation Baxter & Alma Ricard.
It was launched with the original $23-million donation from Ms. RICARD and despite many disbursements, today sits at $25-million thanks to interest earned on the principal, says Mr. LANDRY.
Until her death, Mrs. RICARD was president of the board and until three months ago, continued to sign cheques, says Mr. LACROIX, who remembers Mrs. RICARD as a ''generous and kind person who helped people with problems.''
''Baxter's father would be proud of what Alma has accomplished since Baxter died. It is well along the way to what he had promoted for many years," says Mr. LACROIX.
In addition to donations in the millions of dollars over the years, Mrs. RICARD once helped out a person who couldn't handle her mortgage payments and was about to lose her home; she also donated to a religious group that raised money for the poor.
Mr. LACROIX remembers Mrs. RICARD as a woman who loved to have fun.
''From age 70 onward she didn't mind going on until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. She enjoyed going out at night, she loved to dance," he says. ''She was also quite religious, church attendance was sacred.'' Mrs. RICARD also loved to collect hats: ''She had hundreds of hats and they were attention-getters," says Mr. LACROIX, who knew the RICARDs for more than 30 years.
Of all the recognition she received over the years, Mrs. RICARD cherished most the Officer of the Order of Canada bestowed on her in 2000, says Mr. LACROIX. Governor-General Adrienne CLARKSON travelled to Sudbury to present the honour to Mrs. RICARD in her sick bed, at her home, in September, 2002.

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