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OBITUARY: John Cyopeck, 1944-2006

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

John Cyopeck and wife Maureen Freeman

Too young, but with a big life behind him, John Cyopeck has died.

This past Easter weekend, at the age of 61, John passed away at home, leaving his wife Maureen and four children. Leaving also a great many employees who clearly loved their leader, and an industry that will never again be guided by a man as humble or as wise or as generous.

John Cyopeck was one of a kind.

President and chief executive officer of Canpar Transport in Mississauga, Ont., John was also chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and vice chairman of the Ontario Trucking Association. In 1999 he received the Award of Lifetime Achievement, an honor presented to leaders who have made a significant contribution to the Canadian transportation industry. In 2000, he was the first ever
recipient of the Courier Executive of the Year Award presented by the Canadian Courier Association. Last year he was given the Trailmobile Service to Industry Award, the highest honor to be bestowed on someone in Ontario trucking.

All of that, and certainly the way he engineered Canpar’s turnaround after taking over the reins there in 1990, would be reason enough to call John’s life well lived. Not least because he started his career in trucking as a driver nearly 50 years ago, with Harrison Motorways, and spent time as a Teamsters steward. In the late 1970’s he joined the TNT organization and over the years accepted ever bigger roles at Overland, Kwikasair, Alltrans and Truckload Services. He started TNT Roadfast in 1986, then left TNT to join Concord Transportation in the late 1980s.
John joined Canpar in 1989.

All of us would be pleased to see such a career in our biographies, but what really set John Cyopeck apart was a matter of character — his utter selflessness, his sincere wish to serve, his constant concern for others. He was, in the most literal sense, an inspiration to those who knew him.

“He left an impact on all of us,” says Rick Gaetz, president and CEO of Vitran Corp. in Toronto. “He was a guy you were proud to call your friend. What made him so special was that he always felt the people around him were more important than he was. He treated people the way he wanted to be treated, and he was consistent with it. And the way he lived his personal life permeated his business
life.”

“He didn’t get ahead because he took advantage of people, but because he was a first-rate leader,” adds Murray Mullen, chairman and co-CEO at Mullen Group Income Fund in Aldersyde, Alta. “The thing about him was that it was never about John. He left an imprint not just on his friends and employees but on other leaders too, and that’s something.”

It was Gaetz who helped John organize the ‘John Cyopeck and Friends Delivering a Dream Campaign’ to raise funds for a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to be installed at the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga. It was there that John was operated on to remove a brain tumor in February, 2005, and his gratitude led him to pledge a donation of $1 million, starting with $100,000 of his own money. Ultimately, because his massive collection of friends in the trucking industry willingly adopted his cause, he went well over his target and raised $1.3
million. That sum was then matched by local philanthropist Harold Shipp, resulting in a total donation of $2.6 million.

“John was a professional with heart,” says friend and former Concord Transportation owner Al Wortzman. “His goal was always to give something back, to the community and to the industry.”

The MRI fund-raising drive was fuelled by a golf tournament last August and a subsequent evening banquet that won’t be forgotten by anyone who attended. Humble as always, but very proud because he had already reached his goal, John watched over a remarkable auction that night in which a pair of Rolling Stones concert tickets, for instance, sold for $16,000. The spirit of generosity was infectious, and the wallets opened.

Evidence of John’s profound connection to his employees was there as well in the person of a dispatcher from Canpar’s Ottawa terminal, who took the day off to drive down to the banquet and present a cheque from his fellow workers.

“Everyone in his company felt the same way,” says Gaetz. “His people loved him. They respected him so much.”

“John was the driving force behind the success of Canpar Transport,” adds Brent Neill, Canpar’s vice president, human resources. “It was his vision that guided each of us. A great boss and even better friend, he has left an indelible mark on everyone he touched and will be truly missed by all of us at Canpar.”

Sadly, John’s brain tumor was malignant, and that’s what eventually felled him despite round after round of chemotherapy and other treatments. In the midst of all that, he did not complain, and in fact he fulfilled his role as CTA chairman with the same vigor he had shown throughout his career. Just the week before he died, obviously weak and more frail than ever, but with his spirit undaunted, he chaired the CTA annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Lesser men would have stayed home.

“He was a very cool guy,” Rick Gaetz sums up, “just a very cool guy.” — RL

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