The Billionaire!

jimmy Pattison1

Jimmy Pattison had been a member of the band in the 1940’s. I called his office to see if I could interview him for my books. When I got back to my office, I found a message on my machine that pleased me. It was from Maureen Chant, Mr. Pattison’s assistant, telling me that Mr. Pattison would be able to see me at four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon.

“That was a stroke of luck,” I thought! Maybe, now I would be able to piece together more of Arthur and the bands activities during the 1940s. So, on Wednesday afternoon, I made my way over to Hastings and Burrard. Mr. Pattison’s office is high on the eighteenth floor of a new high rise building on the downtown waterfront. Making my way inside the building, I informed security that I was there for a 4 p.m. appointment with Jimmy Pattison. The security guard asked me if my name was Christopher Best. He then ushered me into one of the elevators, quickly activating the eighteenth floor for me and leaving me alone in the elevator as it ascended to the penthouse suite.

It was a long way up. As the elevator door opened, I looked both ways and then made my way to the left where I was greeted by a receptionist who took my jacket and rain pants. The weather had been exceptionally bad for July in Vancouver. It had rained practically every day that week.

“Mr. Pattison is still in a previous meeting. He should be through soon. You’re welcome to have a seat,” the receptionist said, gesturing to some comfortable looking chairs to the right.

As I looked around the large open room which seemed to go a way off to the left and a way off to the right, leading to more open spaces, directly ahead of me, I could see the water in Burrard Inlet, through a large picture window in someone’s office and Stanley Park beyond. Turning around, I found an entire wall filled with framed pictures of famous people, extending the length of the wall both to the right and to the left. The wall was broken up by doorways every ten feet or so.

“No, I think I will have a look at the pictures if I may?” I replied.

Making my way over to the nearest display of pictures, I could see that they were all framed ‘Life Magazine’ covers from the year 1961. In the middle, was a large picture of Jimmy Pattison Buick, at 18th and Main. On each life cover was a full page picture of a famous movie star or public figure: Clark Gable, Grace Kelly, Kruschev, John Kennedy, Bridget Bardot, Eisenhower. On the next wall were pictures of well known personalities from over the years either by themselves or with Mr. Pattison. There was Nancy Reagan, Al Gore, Jean Chretien, Rudy Giuliani, Bill Cosby, Tom Selleck, Steve Wynn, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Prince Charles and Lady Diana and Margaret Thatcher.

Just then, I could hear some voices near the reception area, so I made my way back quickly passing Mr. Pattison on his way to another office to retrieve something.  Upon seeing me he said,

“How are you?”

“Just fine,” I answered, continuing back to the safety of the comfortable chairs in the corner.

“Hi Chris, I’m Maureen Chant,” a voice said coming from the nearest office. I got up and went into the office where I found Maureen sitting behind a desk.

“Mr. Pattison shouldn’t be too much longer,” she said.

“No problem,” I answered.

“What is the significance of the Life Magazine covers on the wall?” I asked.

“The first one is the year that Mr. Pattison started in business. We have them up on the wall as a reminder of how far we have come. You would be surprised at how many people have never heard of some of those personalities.”

“Too young I guess,” I replied.

It wasn’t long before Mr. Pattison was back, showing two or three guests his picture collection before walking them to the elevators. Making his way back to the reception, Maureen and I came out of her office to greet him.

“Have you met Chris Best yet? asked Maureen. He is writing the books on Arthur Delamont.”

“Hello Chris!” he said extending his hand and ushering me into the room from which he had just come. Once inside the room, he said to me,

“They were just in town from Shanghai. Sorry they took so long.”

“No problem,” I replied. “I am intruding on your daily schedule. It is kind of you to see me at all.”

“Oh no, that is fine. I wanted to talk to you.”

I sat down on a sofa against a back wall, and Mr. Pattison followed me and sat on a nearby chair at the end of the sofa. He was well dressed and had on a sports jacket, dress slacks and tie. In his late seventies, he spoke with a soft voice that had been in command of boardrooms around Vancouver for nearly fifty years. At a time when most people his age were long since retired, he was still the spark plug in the business conglomerate that he founded and forged with his own hands and which still bears his name, ‘The Jim Pattison Group’.

“Tell me, how did you meet Arthur Delamont? “ I asked.

“Al Colette has since moved to Kamloops. He has some land up there and loves the outdoors. He was absolutely the best trumpet player I ever heard in those days. He and I used to play together in the Vancouver Junior Symphony. It was Al who got me into the Kitsilano Boys’ Band. This would have been when the war was on, probably about 1943. Al was first trumpet in the junior symphony and I was second trumpet.  He told me one day that he was going to join the Kitsilano Boys’ Band and that I should join too so I did. He had the most beautiful tone on his trumpet. He could have played professionally and gone right to the top of the charts in the music business but he preferred to be on the farm. That is what he enjoyed doing. His parents had a farm out in the Fraser Valley. He was raised there. Then there was Bruce Ailsbury. They were the two main players I knew, during my time in the band.

“You were involved with the pep band at UBC?”

“Oh yes, I went from the Kitsilano Boys’ Band, to playing with Delamont in his UBC Pep band. It must have been after the war.”

“Any stories you can recall from those days?”

“No, I cannot remember anything much. I wish I could give you some. The only thing I remember, happened at band at General Gordon School. This was Kits band not UBC. Delamont got mad at a fellow by the name of Bill Harvey. He was playing on my stand. There were a lot of trumpets. In the first row there was  first stand, second stand and third stand. I was playing third stand. Then there were another three stands behind us in the second row. I was in the front row with Bill Harvey and Dr. Gripson’s son. Delamont was playing. There was a big pause. Bill Harvey played a note and Delamont went wild. He made everybody start over again. Bill was always willing to try hard but he did EXACTLY the same thing, the second time and Delamont was really burned up. We had to start over again a third time. The third time, Bill Harvey did it again. Delamont went over and got an inkwell. You remember those inkwells they used to have on the desks in school?”

“Yes. I certainly do. He didn’t?”

“Oh yes he did! He poured the ink down the guys back he was so mad.”

“He couldn’t do that today,” I replied.

“No, he sure couldn’t but I always remember that!”

“You obviously kept your affection for Arthur over the years”.

“Oh yes.”

“Do you think he influenced your later life at all?”

“When I was just starting out in business and they had the first big reunion concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I gave him a new car. That was about 1963. I was just getting going back then and it was a sacrifice but I wanted to do something for him so we gave him a brand new car. I did it for him on behalf of the band but that was the kind of feeling I had for him. The spark plug of that whole deal, that first reunion concert was Ray Smith, who of course was the President of MacMillan Bloedel and eventually the chairman. That is when I first met Ray Smith. They had a committee meeting at the Delamont house. They asked me to be on the committee for the reunion. So Ray was the chairman of the committee. I had never seen such organized notes like Ray Smith presented. To this day, I use the format that Ray Smith had at the committee meeting at Delamont’s house on who’s responsible, by what date and so on. I had never seen that before. To this day in my own company, I use the format that Ray Smith had at Delamont’s house.

It was a great place to develop lifelong friendships. Al Colette and I have remained friends to this day. Everybody in that band developed a bond. They really did!”

“Do you feel Arthur was an influence in your later life?”

“You know, I was thinking about that the other day. If somebody asked me, who were the three most impressive people I have met in my lifetime, I would say, Arthur Delamont, Margaret Thatcher (We got to know her very well!) and the other would be a fellow by the name of Charles Wick. He was the head of the United States Information Agency in Washington D.C. and Ronald Reagan’s best friend. For maybe 35 years, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan spent Christmas with Charles Wick and his wife, who was named Mary Jane Wick. They lived in Los Angeles, in Lana Turner’s house. But, those three people were the most impressive people that, individually, made an impression on my life. One of the things that impressed me most about Arthur was the integrity of the man. He had a passion for his work. He was totally honest. Today, I do not think he would do nearly as well because he couldn’t be himself. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, he did what he did. His training in the Salvation Army put him in good standing. He always played a hymn. I always liked Abide with Me!

Anything else you want to talk about?”

“No, not unless you have some more stories.”

“If I think of anything more, I will let you know but I sure always remember the Bill Harvey incident. I always remember the committee meetings, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the UBC stuff! What impressed me most was his integrity, his passion, his discipline, his commitment to the boys. He didn’t pull punches. He didn’t care if you were rich or poor or from what family you came. He treated everybody the same!”

The Kits Band has enjoyed a long and enviable relationship with Jimmy Pattison. As far back as I can remember whenever there was a reunion concert he was there. Don Radelet told me,

    “I always bring a few bow ties in my pocket for Jimmy because he usually forgets to bring one.”

Long before he reached the heights of Billionaire he could have chosen not to be involved anymore. Many did choose, as the years went by, not to carry on the association, especially after Arthur passed away in 1982. They would tell me,

     “Oh, I just came down to honor Arthur when he was here now it doesn’t matter.”

I am not sure they realized how much it meant to the rest of the guys to see everyone once again. But not Jimmy! He faithfully continued to come down even after Delamont passed away. He even invited some of the boys out on his yacht from time to time. He often played a short solo, nothing much but he always seemed content to be there and to just be one of the guys. Dal Richards was the same but Dal of course loved the limelight. It is a testimony to how much Jimmy thought of Mr. D that he continued to come out as the years passed. I doubt anyone has ever thanked him for that so I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Kits Band alumni to do so. I know it meant a lot to everyone just to see him there. After all, what bands can boast to have their own Architect (Bing Thom) and their own Billionaire!

6 thoughts on “The Billionaire!

  1. Ziba Fisher

    Jimmy was at a reunion rehearsal when I first met him. Gordon Laird did the introduction s. Nice fella. Was impressed that he could schedule a band rehearsal into his schedule.

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  2. Kim petrie

    Very interesting Chris! My dad used to babysit Jimmy Pattison when he was a little kid back in Luseland SK. When my grandpa was close to losing the farm and store he told my dad to head west to try and find work so my dad hitched a ride on a box car with his buddy and eventually ended up in Vancouver. My dad lived with Jimmy and his folks until he found a place to stay. He also worked with Jimmy at the used car lot washing cars. Mrs. Pattison gave my dad her New Testament bible and he had that until he passed away 2 years ago at the age of 96. Now I have the bible.

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