Long-time local business and community leader Bob Whyte, here seen wife Suzanne, died on May 11, six days short of his 78th birthday. (Richard Talbot/Submitted)

Long-time local business and community leader Bob Whyte, here seen wife Suzanne, died on May 11, six days short of his 78th birthday. (Richard Talbot/Submitted)

Sidney mourns local business and community leader Bob Whyte

Whyte helped to transform Port Sidney Marina and spoke passionately for downtown Sidney

Residents of Sidney and beyond are mourning the death of local entrepreneur Bob Whyte, whose professional career was as rooted in the community as his warm personality reflected the sunny ways of his youth in California during the heyday of the Beach Boys.

Whyte died on May 11, six days short of what would have been his 78th birthday, leaving behind Suzanne, his wife of 55 years, two children (Robin and Ben), three grandchildren and an extended family.

“As a family, we feel extremely fortunate to have had all of the time that we had with our dad,” said Ben Whyte. “Dad packed an awful lot into 78 years.”

Ben said his dad’s legacy lies in his dedication to his family, as well as the community-at-large and its people.

“He was such a strong believer in Sidney as a community and he wanted it to be successful in terms of the businesses, but he also loved it as his home of 53 years,” he said. “He treated everyone equally and wanted everybody around him to succeed. When you met Bob on the street, he brightened your day.”

It was this sincerity that earned Whyte a wide circle of friends from all stations of life, perhaps none closer than Richard Talbot and his wife Jinny.

The Whytes and the Talbots first met in 1969, when the Talbots moved to Sidney, both couples being about the same age with young children. “At the time, we were the only young couples on the street,” said Talbot. “Everyone else was retired. So we naturally just gravitated together.”

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This friendship forged in young adulthood evolved into something deeper over time and the passing of Whyte has deeply shocked the Talbots, who were unaware of the seriousness of Whyte’s medical condition prior to his death, a fact partially owed to their inability to visit him in hospital because of COVID-19 measures.

“It’s like family, to be honest,” said Talbot of the emotional impact. “We had very different lives obviously, but we were like brothers, I guess is a good way of putting it. It’s like a brother I wish I had.”

A cremation has since taken place, with Whyte’s ashes scattered in places, which he considered special.

Plans for a celebration of life exist, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made their timing uncertain.

“The trouble is, he has such a huge circle of friends and family, that it is tough to know where to hold it and when,” said Talbot. “He has family in Australia and God knows where else.”

Any future celebration of life will also likely include a large circle of former business partners and clients, as Whyte made an impact in several industries, including the local marina industry, where he first worked with his father, before striking out on his own.

An avid boater, Whyte helped to bring about the transformation of the Port Sidney Marina as chairman of Sidney’s advisory planning commission, along with former mayor Norma Sealy, said Talbot.

“She and Bob really put the Port Sidney Marina together,” said Talbot. “He, having come from a marina background, was really helpful in putting that together.” Later, he helped to bring out about the sale of the facility to its current ownership, Talbot added.

Whyte was also a tireless advocate for downtown Sidney, a history cited by the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society.

“Bob was an instrumental member of Sidney’s business community and served an important role as a director on the Sidney BIA board,” read a statement. “With a warm smile and friendly disposition, Bob believed strongly in giving back to others and will be fondly remembered as an irreplaceable member of our community.”

Talbot said Whyte’s integrity was impeccable. “If you bought something from him and you had a problem, it was going to be fixed,” he said. “If you really didn’t like it, he would just take it back, money refunded 100 per cent, not a single complaint. That was how he built his reputation. He was a very honest and knowledgeable boat salesperson.”

He was also a worldly person, who nonetheless remained rooted to Vancouver Island. Born in Victoria, he eventually moved with his family to California in the late 1950s, where he went to high school in Orange County in the Greater Los Angeles. This place and its culture would be influential on Whyte, giving him the air of a sonny boy, whose warmth and trademark beard helped him make friends easily.

“It was sort of the time of the Beach Boys and all of that,” said Talbot. “He was out surfing and really that was an important part of his life.”

After trading securities in Vancouver, Whyte showed his entrepreneurial skills in another sun-drenched location, the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he revived the struggling operations of Hertz Rent-A-Car.

“The millionaire owner desperately wanted him to stay, but he wanted to come back to the West Coast,” said Talbot.

After returning and selling his marina business, Whyte developed residential and commercial real estate in Sidney, Greater Victoria and beyond, served as president of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and volunteered on the boards of many service clubs and charitable organizations.

“He was the absolute No. 1 seller of raffle tickets for charity,” Talbot said. “I used to make a point of walking past him on the other side of the road before I got attacked by him because you couldn’t get away without buying some tickets.”


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wolfgang.depner@ peninsulanewsreview.com

Saanich PeninsulaSidney