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Department-store dynasty heir Thor Eaton dies at 73

Thor Eaton (left) is pictured with Ruth and Robert Josephson at the St George Society of Toronto's Red Rose Ball on April 1, 2009.

Tom Sandler/The Globe and Mail

Thor Eaton, one of the heirs to the former Eaton's department store dynasty, has died at the age of 74.

Born in 1942 to John David and Signy Eaton, Mr. Eaton was the second- youngest of "the boys" – the four sons who assumed control of the namesake department store chain in 1973, after a brief period of non-family management.

"He was a great, cheerful family man who loved the outdoors and always had something up his sleeve," said his brother, John Craig Eaton. "We'll miss him."

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Mr. Eaton inherited a 25-per-cent stake in the family-owned department store chain after his father's death in 1973. Founded in 1860 by his grandfather, Timothy, Eaton's once controlled more than half of Canada's department-store market and was a cultural institution. It went bankrupt in 1999 after 139 years in business.

Thor Eaton was known for forging an identity for himself outside of the family business. In 1970, he worked as a concert promoter for a nationwide train tour featuring artists such as the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Though his family was well-known to Canadians, Mr. Eaton remained somewhat more of a mystery than his brothers.

Known as the shy one and for lacking an interest in the family business, Mr. Eaton instead indulged other passions such as hunting, fishing and racehorses.

In later years, Mr. Eaton sat on the board of directors of multiple companies as well as The Eaton Foundation. He was also known as a philanthropist. Through The Thor E. And Nicole Eaton Family Charitable Foundation, Mr. Eaton and his wife donated to a variety of causes including hospitals and cultural and environmental institutions. The pair were also a fixture at various charitable and society events in Toronto.

Mr. Eaton leaves his wife, Senator Nicole Eaton, and their two children Cleophee and Thor.

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