Benjamin Banky

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Among those mourning the death of Benjamin Banky Saturday was Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.

"He was a friend, a good supporter and a successful entrepreneur,”" a solemn Robertson told The Province.

"We connected through my campaign and have a lot of friends in common through business," he added after a long pausbe.

"It’s a shock and it will be a hard one to get over. I really feel for his friends, family and everyone who worked with him at TallGrass."

Banky, the co-founder, president and CEO of TallGrass Distribution, was killed after a former employee shot him at a company Christmas party at 40 East Fifth on Friday.

Eric Allen Kirkpatrick, a 61-year-old Vancouver man, has been charged with first degree murder. He had been fired for unknown reasons the day prior.

"Ben loved to have a great time and would always have people over and throw over-the-top parties," said Ryan Benn who served on the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) with Banky.

"He always had a reason to celebrate life," he said, adding that Banky was known in the industry for throwing parties featuring firebreathers and stilt-walkers.

"He just loved to have people over and have a scotch together and talk about the industry. He was very active in the community."

Friends of the 40-year-old entrepreneur said he was a soft-spoken but direct and passionate man with a personality that was "larger than life."

His passion for the natural health food industry began shortly after he and life-long friend Matthew Breech formed their company 12 years ago.

At the time it was called TallGrass Hemp Company and supplied hemp-based products, including a line of hair- and skin-care products.

The company was founded after Breech encountered American tourists in China who ensured him of the burgeoning market in hemp products.

After bribing Chinese custom officials - Banky was fluent in Mandarin - the two sold hemp shirts at a hemp shop. Their business and working relationship was soon after born.

The multi-million dollar company quickly took off, with TallGrass claiming to be the fastest-growing natural health product supplier in the country.

But that wasn’t enough for Banky, who envisioned bringing natural health products to all Canadians.

In April he and Beach became the two youngest members of CHFA and he quickly earned his stripes as a passionate teamplayer.

"He was a very intelligent guy, always asking the right questions, always making friends really easy. He sort of rooted for the underdog," said Lawrence Titcher, the vice-chair of CHFA.

Titcher called Banky a "champion" for the cause, recalling his performance a few weeks ago in Ottawa when the board hosted a breakfast for a few members of parliament.

"Usually it takes two years for people to get comfortable and know how the board works. He joined in April, it’s only December, and it was like he was an old veteran. I’m truly going to miss him," said Titcher.

Other board members shared the same sentiment.

"This is a really, really terrible loss," said Lionel Pasen from his Toronto home.

"He was soft-spoken, very thoughtful and he was a great asset to the board. He was always direct but still a teamplayer."

But Banky’s passion for politics wasn’t just on the national level, he was also a strong supporter and campaigned heavily for Robertson during the past mayoral race.

"He was a very inspiring guy and well-known in the industry," said Robertson, who first met Banky through their mutual health-related businesses.

But it wasn’t always business and business-related parties for Banky.

In 2006 he married Linda Rae, a television writer, who shared his passion for environmentalism and social justice.

When he wasn’t taking up the cause he could be found fiddling around with an instrument.

Banky was a member of Great Stuff, a folk-pop tribute band to the Vancouver-based group the Paperboys.

The group recorded a number of songs as a tribute after the Paperboys drummer Paul "Lolly" Lawton died in an industrial accident in 2005.

Now tributes for Banky himself began to slowly pour out Saturday on his Facebook page.

"R.I.P. uncle ben," read one tribute while another says "a great friend" is missed dearly.

Meanwhile the company he loved so much has promised it will resume business to keep his dream alive.

"Ben was a compassionate and dedicated leader who will be sadly missed," read a company press release.

"The team he leaves behind will carry on to continue to fulfill his dream he began."
Published in The Vancouver Sun from Dec. 14 to Dec. 15, 2008
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