Donald Sobey, son of grocery store founder, remembered for leadership, philanthropy

By The Canadian Press

STELLARTON, N.S. — Donald Sobey, former president and chairman of Empire Company Ltd. and the son of the Sobey’s grocery store founder has died.

He was 86 years old.

Michael Medline, president and CEO of Empire and its wholly-owned subsidiary Sobeys Inc., says the companies are indebted to him for his leadership, business acumen and passion.

Medline says Sobey was a great businessperson as well as a visionary philanthropist who believed in nurturing Canadian artists and supporting the next generation of leaders. 

Sasha Suda, director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada, says Sobey deeply believed in artists and championing their work. 

Sobey is survived by his wife, Beth, his three children, and five grandchildren.

After graduating from Queen’s University in 1957, Donald Sobey joined his father and brothers in the family business.

He started in real estate financing for the rapidly expanding Sobeys grocery store chain and then worked with parent company Emprie, which was created to diversify the family’s business interests. 

Sobey joined Empire’s board of directors in 1963, before being appointed president in 1969 and chairman in 1985. 

In 2004, he retired as chairman and was named chairman emeritus, continuing to be actively engaged in the business as a member of the board of directors until 2015.

A staunch supporter of the visual arts, The Sobey Art Award for Canadian contemporary art, given annually since 2002, was Sobey’s brainchild.

“His grassroots approach, and his vision to create the Sobey Art Award impacted the lives of thousands of emerging artists across the country. He will be deeply missed,” said Suda.

In recognition of Donald Sobey’s leadership, the National Gallery of Canada unveiled the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery in 2015 — the first exhibition space to be named in recognition of a donor in the institution’s history.

His legacy also includes a student scholarship he created for educational opportunities, as well as many artists who he supported throughout their careers

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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