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W. Galen Weston, who built Canadian retail empire, dies at 80

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TORONTO – W. Galen Weston, former executive chairman of George Weston Ltd., the parent company of Loblaw Cos., Primar and Selfridges Group, has died at 80.

Weston died “peacefully at home after a long illness faced with courage and dignity,” the Weston family said in a statement announcing the death, on April 12.

“In our business and in his life he built a legacy of extraordinary accomplishment and joy,” his son, Galen G. Weston, chief executive officer of George Weston Ltd., said. Added his daughter, Alannah Weston, chair of Selfridges, “The luxury retail industry has lost a great visionary.”

Through George Weston Ltd., the company named for his grandfather, the family holds the biggest stake in Loblaw, Canada’s largest grocery and pharmacy operator and is one of Canada’s richest families.

W. Galen Weston was born in Buckinghamshire, England, on Oct. 29, 1940, the youngest of nine children. His father, who served in the British Parliament during World War II, had helped build the family bakery into a multinational food business.

After graduating from Western Ontario University, in 1962, W. Galen Weston moved to Ireland, opened a grocery store and married Hilary Frayne, an Irish fashion model.

W. Galen Weston assumed executive control of George Weston Ltd. in 1974, when he succeeded his father. Over four decades as chairman, Weston established an record of achievement, taking a sprawling portfolio and focusing on re-making Loblaw into the Canada’s top retailer, and building George Weston into one of North America’s largest food processing companies.

During his tenure at George Weston, he oversaw the introduction of some of Canada’s most innovative brands and retail concepts, including President’s Choice, Joe Fresh, No Frills, and Real Canadian Superstore. During this time, the company established the Weston Foundation and the Weston Group of Cos, which together have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the benefit of Canadian communities.

Bloomberg News reported that Weston had a net worth of $10.7 billion, and that his wealth sometimes came at a cost. In 1983, police tipped off Weston and his family about a planned kidnapping attempt at their estate in Ireland. During a police ambush, several members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were reportedly shot and captured.