Controversial Vancouver businessman J. Bob Carter dead at 77

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J. Bob Carter, the flamboyant Vancouver businessman known for his salty tongue and penchant for attracting police and media attention, has died.

Carter suffered for over a decade from spinal stenosis, a chronic, painful nerve disorder, before succumbing to pneumonia Sunday, June 14, at Surrey Memorial Hospital. He was 77.

Born John Arthur Charles Patrick Carter in Montreal on July 25, 1942, Carter dropped out of high school and ran away from home at 14 years old to make his way out west. Along the way, he worked several odd jobs, including as a lumberjack, a boat builder, a newspaper columnist, a high steel rigger and an undercover agent for the RCMP.

In the late 1970s, Carter entered the oil and gas field, and made his first million in 1978.

By 1979, after adding to his wealth with a string of successful deals, Carter purchased Hamilton Brothers Petroleum Corp. for over $500 million.

A savvy and controversial character in the Vancouver business world, Carter was no stranger to tax schemes, and singlehandedly forced changes to some of Canada’s tax laws when he purchased Hamilton Bros. and divided the corporation into 10 separate entities to avoid a hefty tax bill.

Carter owned Carter Oil and Gas, Kelvin Energy and Envirowaste Management and, briefly, the Vancouver Whitecaps, after purchasing the struggling franchise in the early ’80s and writing off the investment as a tax loss.

Businessman J. Bob Carter in 1985. Colin Price / PNG files

Through the 1980s, Carter was a highly visible public figure — a high roller known for throwing his money around and drinking to excess. He was infamous for his long, legendary lunches: on one occasion, at Vancouver restaurant Umberto’s, Carter had 24-carat gold flakes sprinkled in the pheasant broth, among other luxuries. The bill at the end of the bash was over $25,000, according to a 1990 Vancouver Sun story.

But Carter struggled to find social acceptance, in large part due to his trouble with the law. In 1984, he pleaded guilty to a charge of gross indecency involving two teenage sex workers, which led to him paying a hefty fine and resigning all his directorships, including his association with the Whitecaps.

1984: J. Bob Carter at a media scrum outside Vancouver courthouse on Main Street. John Denniston / PNG

That incident was one of a number of lurid cases through the decade that earned Carter a reputation as a boor, something he spoke to in a 1985 interview.

“A lot of people in this town have lost their money and kept their reputations,” he said then. “I’ve lost my reputation and kept my money.”

The self-made millionaire was also known for his philanthropy, donating generously to many charities and supporting causes he felt strongly about. Carter also financed Steve Fonyo’s cross-Canada run for cancer in 1985.

Carter is survived by his wife Earline of 25 years, his sons Mark Ford, Michael and daughters Johanna and Wanda, and stepsons Warran and Landon Peterson.

A farewell gathering for Carter will be held Saturday, July 27, at 1 p.m. at the Mountain View Chapel at 5455 Fraser St. in Vancouver.