Trucking loses a legend

by Lou Smyrlis and James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. – John Cyopeck, the CEO of Canpar LLC who had been fighting such a valiant and inspiring battle with brain cancer, passed away on Easter weekend. He was 61.

The widely-respected Cyopeck was also chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and vice-chairman of the Ontario Trucking Association.

“Many have lost a friend and mentor. The entire trucking industry has lost one of its true gentlemen and finest leaders,” commented David Bradley, head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Ontario Trucking Association.

Cyopeck’s battle with brain cancer over the last year and a half was well-known. Still, the news of his passing came as a great shock.

“Many of us had been with John just a few days before at the CTA annual meeting. While it was clear that his illness, surgery and the treatments he had received were taking a toll on John, nobody anticipated that the end would come so soon. We all wanted so badly for him to beat his cancer. For the longest time he seemed to be doing so marvelously well and had inspired all of us to believe; to be positive; and to be charitable to others even less fortunate,” Bradley said.

“My last words to him now seem so ironic. In providing the CEO’s report at the AGM, I told John what a privilege it had been to work with and for him during his first year as chairman. I spoke for all when I said what an example of courage, of decency, and of selflessness he and Maureen had set for all of us. But, I also said to him that while he had accomplished so much during the preceding year, I know that if he could, he would have wanted to slow time down. John looked at me and nodded.”

Cyopeck accomplished much during his lengthy career in transportation, including the resurrection of Canpar.

John Emsley, vice-president and CFO of Canpar fondly recalled how his friend and colleague saved the delivery company from its demise.

“The company was losing money hand over fist,” he told Truck News. “It was owned by Canadian Pacific at the time and they wanted to sell off the assets but John convinced them he could turn it around. He had to make some very tough decisions.”

Under Cyopeck’s guidance, Canpar re-organized by demarketing unprofitable accounts and closing terminals.

“Within two years he restored the company to profitability and it’s been an upward trend ever since,” Emsley said.

But while his business savvy earned him the respect of his employees and industry brethren, it was his personality and heart that won him so much adoration.

“His integrity was there from day one and people grew to love him,” Emsley said. “He was the type of guy that would get on a plane and go to the funeral of a driver’s mother. I’ve seen him do that sometimes.”

In fact, one Calgary Canpar employee related just such a story on an online memorial Web site.

“The depth of John’s caring and compassion resonated deeply within my own family, when John, having learned about my son Dan’s own fight with cancer, made a special trip out to Calgary to visit with Dan last May,” wrote Doug Olesen. “He continued to follow up with phone calls and e-mails right up until last week. It is not possible to put into words, how much his compassion has meant to our family.”

Tributes poured in from coast-to-coast as Canpar employees came to terms with Cyopeck’s death. He had preached a culture of ‘family’ at Canpar and his passing touched many.

“In spite of the tremendous heights that John has reached in the trucking industry the thing that I will carry forward most about him was his ability to sit, eat and talk with anyone and always make them feel that they were on the same level that he was,” recalled Sean Roden, a Canpar employee in Nanaimo, B.C. “His genuine interest in the thoughts, feelings and lives of the drivers was another quality in John’s vast arsenal of qualities.”

Emsley said Cyopeck “wore his heart on his sleeve” and “never pulled any punches.”

He said Cyopeck grew up in the trucking industry and was “a trucker forever.” He wowed Canpar employees by showing up for work with a smile on his face just four days after having a tumour removed from his brain.During his last year, Cyopeck likely had more impact on more people’s lives than most of us could hope for in an entire lifetime. His Delivering a Dream campaign on behalf of the Trillium Health Centre, raised $2.6 million for cancer treatment.

In addition to hosting a golf tournament fundraiser, Cyopeck ponied up $100,000 out of his own pocket in exceeding his $1 million target. Trillium Health Centre supporter and philanthropist Harold Shipp matched Cyopeck’s total of $1.3 million, making it one of the most successful fundraising efforts of all time.

“The campaign was a success not because John was sick, but because of the man himself. The industry would have rallied around John had he been in perfect health. That is how admired he was,” Bradley said.

Cyopeck is survived by his wife Maureen Freeman, and his children Johnny, Kim, Paige and Alex.

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