Billionaire businessman James K. Irving dead at 96

J.K. Irving, chairman of J.D. Irving, has passed away at 96, the company said. (J.D. Irving/Facebook - image credit)
J.K. Irving, chairman of J.D. Irving, has passed away at 96, the company said. (J.D. Irving/Facebook - image credit)

The billionaire businessman James K. Irving, chairman of J.D. Irving Ltd., has died at the age of 96, according to a news release from the company Friday evening.

J.K. Irving died peacefully Friday in Saint John, N.B., the release said.

He was the son of Irving patriarch K.C. Irving, who died in 1992. K.C. was an industrialist who turned a single gas station and sawmill into a family-controlled business conglomerate, making him and his three sons among Canada's wealthiest businessmen.

That business, based in Saint John, includes forestry, energy, agriculture, transportation, retail, food, construction and shipbuilding, its website says. It was founded in 1882 and operates in Canada and the United States.

J.K. Irving's net worth at the time of his death was $5.5 billion, according to Forbes.

The Forbes website says the company has planted over a billion trees since 1957, and Irving Woodlands, a division of the company, is the sixth-largest landowner in the United States.

The forestry and paper operations overseen by J.D. Irving are New Brunswick's largest private-sector employers.

Brothers J.K., Arthur and Jack Irving in earlier times.
Brothers J.K., Arthur and Jack Irving in earlier times.

Brothers J.K., Arthur and Jack Irving in earlier times. All three have now passed away. (CBC)

J.K. Irving's death marks the end of a generation of Irving brothers who split their father's company into three.

His brother Arthur died in May at age 93 and had been chairman emeritus of Irving Oil. Their brother Jack Irving died in 2010.

J.K. Irving is predeceased by his wife, Jean Irving, and is survived by four children, Jim, Robert, Mary-Jean and Judith, as well as 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

"New Brunswick has lost a significant presence who left an indelible mark on this province," Premier Blaine Higgs said in an email statement late Friday evening.

Higgs said Irving "built an empire" through his companies and was proud that his company was based in Saint John.

"J.K. leaves an enduring legacy which will live on through the lives of his loved ones and his company's employees across New Brunswick, Canada and internationally," Higgs said.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon shared her condolences in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Irving family on the passing of James K. Irving," Reardon said.

"Throughout his life, J.K. made substantial contributions to the City of Saint John. His efforts touched many lives, from his leadership in the business community to his environmental initiatives and dedication to youth."

She also highlighted his contribution to the Partners Assisting Local Schools program in Saint John, which aims to reduce child poverty.

Former New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham said J.K. Irving had a kind and compassionate character and will be remembered for his commitment toward funding community programs, and for helping those living in poverty.

"It was this passion I witnessed first-hand," Graham wrote in an email to CBC.

Don Darling, former mayor of Saint John, said on X: "Few words can capture the immense contribution his family has made."

In 2015, J.K. Irving was invested as a member of the Order of Canada "for his transformative contributions as a corporate leader who has advanced economic development in rural and urban New Brunswick," according to the Governor General of Canada's website.

"His visionary leadership of J. D. Irving, Limited has helped to strengthen the economy in the Maritimes by creating opportunities for sustainable employment. He has also supported local economies by helping to develop the province's future leaders, by funding programs in business, the environment and forestry at the University of New Brunswick," the website went on to say.

He is also listed in the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

"J.K. Irving continues to follow the basic formula learned from his father: build a great team of employees, invest, produce an excellent product, give superior service, and then reinvest again," reads a summary on the organization's website.

"Throughout his career, J.K. Irving's primary motivation and greatest reward has been the challenge of building best-in-class businesses from the ground up with a team of people who share his passion for detail and quality."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office also issued a statement on Friday, offering his "deepest condolences" to the Irving family.

Trudeau called J.K. Irving a "symbol of Canadian entrepreneurship and philanthropy" and said he will "always be remembered" for his contributions.