A tribute to Bill MacKinnon

by David Bradley

On March 22, after a long illness and a brave fight, Bill MacKinnon passed away at home, as was his wish. The MacKinnon family has lost a dear husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The trucking industry has lost one of its greatest builders and one of its most respected leaders. Many of us lost a friend.

For parts of four decades, I was proud to count myself among Bill’s friends. He was a legend in the trucking industry long before I came on the scene.

I recall being somewhat nervous meeting him for the first time. That probably would have been in 1985. I needn’t have worried. Bill’s gentle, joking manner – something I would come to appreciate and enjoy so much over the years – immediately put me at ease.

Bill’s humorous approach always contained much wisdom. So much so, that because of him, I started an Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) Quote of the Year segment in my annual remarks to the OTA annual general meeting. Bill won the Quote of the Year so many times, I had to abandon it – but not for at least 20 years.

Bill did not speak often in our board meetings whether at OTA, or the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA). But, when he did, people listened. He was never aggressive or demanding.

He just made a lot of sense – always.

I can recall former Ontario Ministry of Transportation Deputy Minister, Harold Gilbert (another legend) telling me that Bill was his favorite OTA chairman. He said Bill would come in to see him, make his point and then close by saying “I’ll leave that with you.”

Harold said he appreciated that. He knew his job and didn’t need to be told what or how to do it.

I’m going to miss Bill. Every time he called me, he would say, “It’s your old buddy, Bill MacKinnon from Guelph, Ontario calling” – as if I didn’t know.

He would send me a birthday card every year and it would always include a pile of jokes clipped from who-knows-what newspaper or magazine. I would read all of them, because I knew Bill had.

I remember one year at the OTA convention, Bill came up to me with tears in his eyes and said to me, “I am so proud of this association.”

How could you not be inspired to work even harder for an industry that contained people like that?

Years ago, OTA published a book entitled The Golden Years of Trucking. Bill MacKinnon was one of those people who made our industry and who made it golden. His passing marks the end of an era.

No one loved trucking more than Bill and his contemporaries. Bill was never happier than when he was chatting with his drivers. It took a serious illness to keep him away from the office.

No one had more fun than Bill and his fellow association members did. They competed – hard – but they developed friendships that would last a lifetime. They visited with each other. They shared the odd drink of Scotch.

They never missed a convention. They and their wives traveled together. I’m not talking one or two couples. I’m talking about 30-40 people at a time. (I could tell you some stories).

The days of the family trucking business may not be over, but it’s getting tougher. As the years pass, so too do so many of the people and companies with family names that were synonymous with trucking. But, their legacy should not and will not be forgotten.

My deepest condolences to Bill’s loving wife, Lois, and the entire MacKinnon family. Rest in peace, my friend.

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  • I never really got to know Bill MacKinnon. but back in 1970 or ’71 when I was a struggling O/O I was running low on fuel, the truck stop was closed and I pulled into MacKinnon’s yard. It was late at night and Bill came out wondering what I was doing. I told him I needed fuel and could I buy 30 gallons to get me home. I told him I didn’t have any cash, but could he take a credit card. Now I was a total stranger and he said he didn’t have any way to process a credit card, but pull up to the pump and I could pay him next week when I was coming through again. It was a kindness that I have never forgotten. (yeah I paid him back)