Daphne Bramham, Nov. 15, 2018, (VANCOUVER SUN) — Most people approach one of those milestone birthdays — those 0 birthdays that signal another decade has passed — with angst, even anger.

That’s not even close to how Ryan Beedie wanted to spent his 50th and he spent more than two years figuring out how he could do something big.

Tuesday was his birthday. Umberto Menghi cooked dinner for him and his friends.

And, oh yeah, Beedie committed $50 million to help students facing financial difficulties reach their potential.

“I wanted to make a significant splash with something of significant magnitude, so it seemed a natural fit to make a $50-million commitment on my 50th birthday,“ Beedie said Wednesday, only slightly worse for wear after the celebrations. “Turning 50 is such a period of reflection and I’m very grateful that I’ve had such a wonderful life.”

There is nothing like the Beedie Luminaries program in Canada and nothing similar anywhere else. Because of that, Beedie said it will start “slowly” — that’s his word. Only 50 students from Metro Vancouver will be chosen in May 2019 based on their academic readiness, grit and desire to create positive change.

They’ll get up to $10,000 a year for up to four consecutive years and be surrounded with all of the financial and social supports they need to be successful at one of the eight partner institutions in B.C., that include universities, colleges and technical institutes.

They’ll also have mentors, summer internships and help getting jobs when they graduate.

In 2020, Beedie wants double that number and, within three or four years, there should be at least 300 students a year.

“So many people wait until they’re older until they start doing philanthropy. I don’t understand why,” Beedie said. “It fills my soul with joy.”

Keith Beedie taught his son about giving back while he was building the family’s industrial and residential development company in Burnaby. It started slowly, but by the 1970s, the company was doing OK and Keith always supported local baseball and soccer teams in the 1970s. But the company took off in the 1980s and 1990s and as it grew, so did the size of the donations.

In the past decade, its donations have topped $40 million, including the $22 million that Keith and Ryan Beedie gave SFU in 2011 for the Beedie School of Business and since then they’ve given more than $500,000 in scholarships and bursaries.

By the time, Keith Beedie died in September 2017 at age 95, the company had become known simply as Beedie with assets worth more than $1 billion.

Beedie said he has heard and been moved by many of the stories he’s been told by Beedie scholarship students about how the financial help changed their lives. It’s those stories that Beedie kept coming back to when he thought about his $50-million birthday present and his own university experience.

Even though he was living at home, had his family for support, and had no financial concerns thanks to a part-time job and the then-low tuition fees, he struggled his first year at SFU. Too many distractions.

But his grade point average improved every year. After getting a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of B.C., Beedie joined the family firm in 1993 and took over as president in 2001.

“Education is the great equalizer,” said Beedie. “If we can invest in people who may not otherwise have that opportunity, the rewards for them as individuals, their families and society as a whole can be quite dramatic.”

“If we can invest in people who may not otherwise have that opportunity, the rewards for them as individuals, their families and society as a whole can be quite dramatic.”

Here’s who Beedie expects to help: Youth aged 17 or 18, who might be relatively new Canadians or come from broken homes or from families where they’ve had to work one or two jobs while going to high school to help make ends meet.

They won’t be A students — there are plenty of scholarships for them. They’ll be capable B and B+ students.

“They’ll be people,” he said, “who are really trying to advance their socio-economic position in the world and trying to be the best hard-working Canadians that they can be.”

Beedie’s choice to set up an educational foundation doesn’t mean he isn’t attuned to myriad other pressing needs including homelessness and housing. But, Beedie said, “I didn’t want to do something self-serving that people would say, ‘Oh, he’s doing something over here so that he can get approval on a particular project.’“

Just five years ago, Beedie called his friend and mentor Suki Sekhon “crazy” for spending half his time giving money away and half his time earning the money to give away.

Now, Beedie gets it. For the past six months, at least a third of his time has taken up with philanthropy — chairing the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation’s capital campaign and building the Luminaries project from scratch.

While Beedie is still intensely focused on business, that time split feels about right.

“I love making money and investing it. But I love giving back even more.”

 

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