Jack Poole, board chairman for Vancouver Olympic organizing committee, dead at 76

VANCOUVER, B.C. - One day after the start of the historic torch relay that counts down to the 2010 Winter Games, the man who got Vancouver's Olympic clock ticking has died.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - One day after the start of the historic torch relay that counts down to the 2010 Winter Games, the man who got Vancouver's Olympic clock ticking has died.

Jack Poole, chairman of the board of directors for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, died Friday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.

"It was his exceptional spirit and wise leadership that saw Vancouver win the Games and that has put the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee in such a strong position today," said Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee in a statement.

"At the opening ceremony of the Games next February, we will all have a thought for Jack, as the Games that he dreamt about and built finally become a reality."

The 76-year-old civil engineer built his reputation as a developer.

His first company, Daon Development, was in its heyday the second-largest real estate investment firm in North America.

In 1989 he co-founded VLC Properties. Now known as Concert Properties, it is one of Vancouver's most prominent development companies.

Poole was still at the helm of Concert when he was asked to run the committee bidding for the 2010 Games in 2001.

After Vancouver won the Games in 2003, Poole was appointed chairman of the 20-member board overseeing the committee known as VANOC.

But he was gravely ill by the time committee officials travelled to Greece for the lighting of the torch this week.

Poole's death came only hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Olympia and his absence was noted by several dignitaries, including Rogge, who paid tribute to him in his speech.

After the elaborate ceremony, the chief executive officer of VANOC phoned Poole to share what he had missed.

"I phoned Jack and tried to give him a colour commentary on what had happened and thanked him for all of what he had done, for the great friend he is, and for the great man that he is," an emotional John Furlong said during a news conference Friday afternoon in Vancouver.

"It was just such a regret that he wasn't there (in Greece) but in many ways he was."

Furlong said he believes Poole held on just long enough to see the Games begin.

"We were asked many times in Greece what (the torch being lit) represented and it represented the start of the Olympic Games," he said.

"I feel Jack waited for this and that he was there when the Games started."

The City of Vancouver lowered flags to half-mast in Poole's honour and Gary Lunn, the federal government's minister of state for sports, praised his leadership and vision.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell travelled with Furlong back to Vancouver and appeared alongside him at Friday's news conference.

Campbell, at times, fought back tears and remembered Poole as a close personal friend who was the soul of Vancouver's Olympic bid.

"Many people talk about Olympic ideals. Jack Poole lived them. He was constantly striving, he was constantly encouraging others and he was one of those people who took real pleasure when others excelled," he said.

Several members of the Canadian Olympic Committee also paid homage to the Vancouver businessman and Olympic booster.

"I think the Games will nevertheless bear his stamp and he will always be identified with their successful delivery, as he was with winning them in the first place," said Richard Pound, a member of the board of directors, in an email to The Canadian Press.

"I am sure that the whole community and VANOC in particular will work even harder to make Jack proud."

Chris Rudge, CEO and secretary general of the committee, said Poole's support for the Games and the Canadian athletes will be reflected on the podium next February.

"He will be proud," Rudge said in a statement.

Poole was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and in July of 2009, he sought radical treatment at a Seattle hospital that uses an aggressive combination of both chemotherapy and radiation.

He had survived prostate cancer decades earlier.

Furlong remembered when Poole was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and vowed to beat it.

"He was talking about it like he found a pimple. He said that he'd been told by the doctors how difficult it was going to be but he was going to fight it and win," Furlong said.

Poole was a noted philanthropist and helped raise millions for the Vancouver General Hospital and University of British Columbia Hospital foundation, in addition to his personal donations.

In January, he had a robot named after him at Vancouver General after he donated most of the $6.5 million to buy the machine and build an operating room for it.

Ron Dumouchelle, president of the foundation, said Poole "embodied great generosity, commitment and kindness" and left a lasting legacy in British Columbia.

Poole was the recipient of many honours for his work in the community and business world, including the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and the Queen's Jubilee Medal.

He is survived by his wife Darlene and five children.

-By Stephanie Levitz in Greece

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