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In Memoriam: Timothy O. Upton - Passing of a Canadian Legend - News & Views brought to you by Howard Direct

Passing of a Canadian Legend


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By:  Nick Howard  |  Date: October 2015  |  Contact the Author

Timothy Otway Upton passed away on October 8, 2015. I will not speak of him in a past tense – he is always with me and thousands around the world who were lucky enough to know him.

During World War II, Tim as a child, developed a severe dislike for carrots. However rather unusually, Tim loves eating certain flowers and in the raw. This sparked plenty of laughter if a bouquet was slowly disappearing on a table. Times were tough for the English especially children who found themselves sometimes homeless and always doing without many staples. So it was that after the war, Tim, who came from a family with a rich history, entered the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. The future King of Jordan, Hussein bin Talal, was a school-mate.

Upon graduation, Tim was given the rank of second lieutenant with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. He found himself in Egypt during the Suez crisis, specifically the British sector between Port Said and Port Taufiq. It was there in the evening of 1954- two years after Gamal Abdel Nasser had led the overthrow of the monarchy, that Tim was enjoying a glass of gin in the officer’s mess. A road block was in place and a battered old car pulled up to the gate with a flat tire. Tim was called and discovered the inhabitant was none other than Nasser himself. “I ordered them locked up for their own protection” Tim said. It was apparently the best way to safeguard Nasser’s safety. Meanwhile, the tire was repaired and apparently Nasser was grateful but as Tim said “I forget what he said but I know they didn’t pay for the tire”.

After the army, Tim decided to immigrate to Canada and headed to Vancouver. For a time, he also worked odd jobs - building swimming pools, and even working at the famous Banff Springs Hotel. Vancouver proved to be a watershed for Tim for it was there he would meet and marry Helen. They were perfect for each other. This proved to be an amazing union. Helen is a remarkable woman, and together the Uptons raised three children – Julie, Anthony and Heather. It was also in Vancouver that Tim got a job with Sears Ltd. Sears was a business started in 1925 in Toronto and Montreal. They quickly expanded across Canada and sold an encyclopedia’s worth of machinery and supplies for the printing trades.

After a few years in Vancouver, Sears moved Tim to Edmonton where he continued in sales and in the capacity of sales manager for Alberta. These were early days and the western printers took a real shine to Tim as he worked hard to build the Sears name throughout the province.

London, Ontario, was another important printing market and Sears transferred Tim again to the forest city. In the early 1970’s, Tim and family finally made Toronto (Oakville) their home when Tim was posted at Sears' head office. These were interesting days. Sears had the mammoth Heidelberg agency by then as well they still had a bouillabaisse of other important agencies. Sears was now by far Canada’s largest supplier of equipment and supplies for the printing trades.

But, that was to end. Sears Ltd., now a division of the larger Reichold Chemical group, had a dispute with Bill Sears – the scion of the Sears family. Out of this came Heidelberg Canada and Tim long a key executive with Sears, found himself jobless. In 1983, months before Heidelberg Canada’s January 2 1984 launch, Tim was summoned to Germany to meet with Heidelberg management. I recall vividly – and this speaks volumes about this incredible man - how he recounted the meeting. The question was asked: if Mr. Sears would take on say the Roland distributorship (now manroland) would Tim join Heidelberg or move with Bill Sears? Without hesitation, Tim said he would move wherever Mr. Sears went! And so he did. Ensconced as the first VP of sales and along with Manfred Bank as VP of Technical Support (another long time Sears Ltd. employee), Tim did incredible things for Heidelberg and made a lot of Canadians well off in the process.

There was a changing of the guard in 1994, but Tim wasn’t finished quite yet. Lucky for me, he joined our small company, and during the next 10 years Tim became not only irreplaceable but a wonderful friend and father-figure to me. Everyone here loves Tim. We all knew Tim swam in the highest circles, dealt with some of the most important people in the industry, but he is so down to earth- it is truly eye opening.

In 1988, I was in Germany doing business and had a spare day free, so I arranged to visit the Heidelberg factory. For any of you who have not had the pleasure its absolutely amazing. Leaps and bounds above any other (and I’ve been to most). On my return, Tim and I were talking and he asked me who had taken me around the machine halls. When I told Tim, he smiled and said “oh! He used to be a bellhop at the King Eddy” (King Edward Hotel in Toronto). It was just so like Tim. Tell it like it is, no bull be straight and here I thought the guide was really important but now I can only imagine someone with a pill box hat and white gloves opening a door for me.

During our time together, I was also able to witness the amazing marriage the Uptons have. We traveled together and I could see how important Helen was to Tim and how she not only raised some amazing children but also played a key part in Tim’s career. Helen is also able to read right through people. If Tim missed it, Helen didn’t.

Tim is prompt. Don’t ever be late - because he never is. Don’t make silly excuses - because Tim never does. Be honest, truthful – even if it hurts. I knew my place and it was firmly two steps back of Tim. Of all the salesman I have known, Tim was the best bar none. Why? Because he was real. He never played games, sucked up to ownership or thought of anyone as better than himself. The nickname “Bulldog” is fitting. One might assume it came from his rugby days but no. Tim is just a selfless tireless man who as Churchill said “never gives up”.

From the most junior pressman to the biggest CEOs, Tim treated everyone the same and that’s why now we pause to reflect on the amazing life of a Canadian Graphic Arts icon. I doubt we will see another. He’ll cringe, but I’m going to say it anyway: I love you, Tim. Thank you is never enough to say.

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