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Construction moguls give $22-million to Simon Fraser

Ryan Beedie convinced his father, construction magnate Keith Beedie, to donate $22-million to Simon Fraser University.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

Ryan Beedie met and wooed his future wife at Simon Fraser University 22 years ago, so donating $22-million from his family's construction empire was an easy decision.

"This is home. This is home to me," Mr. Beedie, 42, said on Wednesday after he announced the donation on behalf of himself and his father, Keith, 84.

But first, Mr. Beedie, the president of the Beedie Group, had to persuade his father to make that mega-donation while the elder Beedie was still living. Lucky for SFU, the debate lasted only 17 seconds.

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The donation is the largest in the university's history and involves renaming its business faculty as the Beedie School of Business. SFU plans to put the money into its endowment fund and use the interest to offer student scholarships and research grants.

The donation represents the high value the Beedie family places on education, Ryan Beedie said. He wanted to make the donation jointly with his father, who had to quit high school to enlist in the military during the Second World War.

Cindy Beedie, a political science graduate, met Mr. Beedie when they worked at different political tables during Clubs Day at SFU. She had a boyfriend at the time and set Mr. Beedie up with one of her friends. The Beedies' own relationship started 18 months later.

Ms. Beedie said she does not come from a privileged family, but was still shocked when the couple met a student who lived in his car. She says that gave her a greater appreciation for accessible education.

"Acknowledging the responsibility that you have to give back to people that are less fortunate, that's just a value that we really believe in as a family," Ms. Beedie told The Globe and Mail in her first interview with the media.

"It's a wonderful thing to be able to give back. It's a privilege."

Keith Beedie trained with the Royal Canadian Air Force for more than seven months, but the war ended before he could be sent overseas. In the mid-1950s, he founded a construction company, which grew to become the largest landlord for industrial space in the province.

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The younger Mr. Beedie is the first in the family to graduate from university.

He received a master's degree from the University of British Columbia, but his best memories are from his time at SFU.

"Just being here, being outside," Mr. Beedie said, standing outdoors at SFU's Convention Mall. "I'm not an emotional person generally, but it gets my feelings flowing."

He said he insisted the announcement about the donation be given outside because he has fond memories of being outdoors as an undergraduate. But some of the university officials were not as enthusiastic about spending the chilly morning on top of Burnaby Mountain.

"They squawked a little bit," Mr. Beedie said, waving off an offer of a warm cup of coffee while he continued to rub his hands together for warmth. "But you know what? Sorry. We make the donation. That is what we're doing."

The dean of the Beedie School of Business was in good spirits despite the chill. Daniel Shapiro expects the record donation to make the school more globally competitive by attracting the best professors and students.

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"We are not right now an insignificant business school, but given the escalation of the competition for talent, it just will allow us to take the next step in the way that we otherwise would not have been able to do," Mr. Shapiro said.

SFU ranks among the top 100 business schools in the world in research.

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