Street smarts and fair play: Bob Tuck

Column 115


In this past year, 2013, Barrie has lost from its ‘old’ self a number of the people who were part of its big town/small city glory days.

Bob Tuck was one of them.

To try to capture Bob’s personality, his essential-ness is a great challenge. Too young to fight in World War Two, but the right age to be affected by the Depression and its mantle of ‘want’, Bob’s big reflection about his youth in Belleville, Ontario centres on poverty. If he’d been able to stay in school as a kid, it would be interesting to see what direction he would have taken. But he started work at age 15 out of necessity. And his energy, ambition, sense of fair play, innate intelligence all were to Barrie’s enormous benefit.

Because this flyweight of a kid had to work, he found himself first with the Gendron company, manufacturer of children’s furniture, famous carriages and strollers. The war was over and Canada’s main production in the late 40’s and early 50’s was babies. Bob found himself in the middle of the baby boom, first baby carriages and then Beaver Lumber stores, the centre of a national building boom.

Bob quickly rose rank, as they say, and became store manager in a number of Ontario locations, North Bay, Wawa, Peterborough, ending up in Barrie. In 1969 he joined Cash & Carry Plywood and Lumber and then decided to open his own Cardinal Cash & Carry in 1971. At this point Bob was very busy at the store and his first wife was very busy with three active kids on the homefront.

He ventured into the commercial building business in 1983. He’d had a decade of friendship and business associate development, and was an early, sturdy customer of young lawyers who’d ventured on the scene, Tom Wilson and Marshall Green. Both Marshall and Tom have strong viewpoints about their years at the beck and call of Bob Tuck and his development projects; they also have great stories of friendship with Bob and his later wife and business partner, Michelle.

“Bob Tuck could figure out the most complex mathematical calculations and tell you whether a project was potentially profitable or not, scribbling away on the back of an Export A package, “says Marshall. Former law partner Tom Wilson is quick to applaud Bob’s impatience with process, his reputation for being straightforward, fair, honest and practical. “He made friends with both sides of the table,” says Tom “and in the early days, it was Bob’s business that kept us afloat.”

Bob sought to build buildings that would let the tenants become owners. His company was behind the development of many of Barrie’s medical offices and he was proud of all of them.

As financial success followed Bob’s building endeavours, his love of a simple, ordered life remained steadfast. Coasters lined up neatly. Empty desks. Papers filed. Newspapers lined up one slightly at the edge of another. He was obsessive about order… even during poker games! He loved to be in a woodworking shop, and spent every Tuesday evening with his buddies Bob Carter and Bob Watson, turning out remarkable wooden rocking toys for grandchildren and for charitable draws. The 3 Bobs’ last big project, a rocking airplane, fetched $4500 at a charitable auction.

He loved to fish, inside an ice fishing hut on Lake Simcoe or on a trawler in big water. Bob Carter jokes he only ever fished with two lures, but family photo albums have lots of pictures of little Bob and his bigger friends, all with fish. Bob was still the flyweight. And he looked right into the camera, holding his catch out high, the crooked grin on his face a mile wide.

Bob was not a joiner. Quite late in life he discovered the game of golf. But he didn’t join a club; he simply went out and golfed, relishing in his improved ability and celebrating the togetherness with Michelle. His generosity found its way through mentoring young business owners, and by quietly living his beliefs. He was mischievious, though, and loved to win. He actually took a $50 bet a few years ago and let go of the Export A’s, which meant he had to do his scribbling on something else.

“I learned two things a long time ago,” he said to me a couple of weeks before his death earlier this month. “The first is that it’s better to be a part of something terrific rather than own the whole of something not so great. The second is that it’s important to leave something on the table for the next guy.”

‘Nuff said. Thanks, Bob.