Clarence Leslie Heppell

Clarence, known to many of his friends as “Hep”, died in his sleep at home on March 9th surrounded by his immediate family. Although 87, Clarence remained very strong in mind and body and fought every inch of the way in his struggle with pancreatic cancer. As in life, so in death.

Clarence had a long life, well lived. He was born on the kitchen table in a small farmhouse in Cloverdale during the bitterly cold winter of 1929. He grew up on the farm and loved to spend his few idle hours hunting and fishing with his father and uncles. The family lived on what they grew on the farm and the pheasant, duck and deer they hunted on Hall’s Prairie.

Clarence was never meant to be a farmer. From an early age he showed a strong entrepreneurial inclination – renting school supplies to fellow students, promoting square dancing parties at a local hall and running an illegal betting game out of the Cloverdale pool hall.

While attending Lord Tweedsmuir High School, Clarence started working part-time for Overwaitea Foods in Cloverdale. After graduation, he became a full-time employee and soon after, the company’s youngest manager, taking charge of the Qualicam Beach store when he was just 21.

Over the next four decades, Clarence worked hard and smart and rose through

the ranks at Overwaitea. In 1971 Jim Pattison appointed Clarence to the position of President, which he held until his retirement 17 years later. Clarence used his skills of developing and empowering others to build a very strong management team for Overwaitea. He and his team introduced a number of industry firsts – among them, bulk foods and in-store pharmacies – and took Overwaitea from a very small player in the Canadian grocery industry to, by the time of his retirement, over $1 billion in revenue and the largest market share of any grocery chain in Western Canada.

He was awarded the “Knight of the Golden Pencil” Award as Canada’s Grocer of the Year in 1987, and was the only head of Jimmy’s many companies to be named CEO of the Year twice. He and Jimmy worked well together and eventually became friends as well as business associates.

Soon after retiring Clarence took to the skies. At 62, he took up ultra-light flying with a passion and flew all over the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Southwest British Columbia. His first plane had a temperamental two-stroke engine, which provided him with all sorts of adventures. On one occasion, the mechanic left a screw off of the top of a cylinder, which led to the coolant spilling over, covering the windshield and killing the engine. Clarence opened the plane door, and stuck his head out so he could glide the plane down in a truck lane running alongside 64th Avenue. A fellow pilot came by and helped him replace the screw. He took off from the truck lane and returned to his airport. After accumulating almost 1,000 hours, Clarence retired from flying shortly after his 70th birthday.

After the death of Mary-Lou, the love of his life, in 2005, Clarence was able to increase the intensity of his adventure travel. He rode the Trans-Siberian Railway for 17 days from Moscow to Beijing, went on safari in the Kruger Park in South Africa, took numerous river cruises throughout Eastern and Western Europe, cruised the Yangtze River, attended the Beijing Olympics and spent a month travelling throughout India. He had numerous adventures along the way and enjoyed telling the stories with gusto.

During his last few years, Clarence deepened his philanthropy by establishing the Clarence Heppell Foundation. He created the Foundation to provide bursaries to graduating students in Surrey who show promise but, because of their life circumstances, have little chance of receiving scholarships or going on to post-secondary education. The deeper objective of the Foundation is to break the cycle of poverty in the students’ families by giving them the chance to achieve financial independence, and a sense of pride of accomplishment. The Foundation has provided funds for several cohorts of these “diamond in the rough” students to go on to post-secondary education, and there are plans to expand the Foundation’s activities throughout Surrey in areas where the need is greatest.

It was indeed a long life, well lived.

A celebration of Clarence’s life will be held at Newlands Golf Course, 21025 48th Ave, Langley, starting at 2 pm on Friday, April 1, 2016. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, donations to the Clarence Heppell Foundation by cheque mailed to its Chief Financial Officer at 6352 172 Street, Surrey BC V3S 637, would be gratefully received.

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