Ray Torresan's first office was in a buddy's boat-repair shop. An orange crate was his desk. He was 19.
Within a dozen years, his offices would occupy half the 16th floor of Montreal's Place Ville Marie, and Ray Torresan & Associates would have branches in Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and London, England, with affiliates in Paris and Amsterdam.
The man who headed what was once Canada's second-largest public relations and advertising company fell into the business almost by accident.
Born to Italian immigrant parents on Vancouver's tough east side, he was a prankster who became persona non grata at every public school in the province. His mother, Maddalena, went tearfully to her parish priest, and Ray (an anglicization of Remo) found himself at Vancouver College, a prestigious private school in the Shaughnessy area.
In his memoirs, completed shortly before he died, he remembered a teacher there, Brother Edwin Hickey: "Brother Hickey took me aside and said: 'Torresan, you're hopeless at mathematics. Give it up. Go work on the yearbook.' " And so he found his vocation.
He also found, at a pool party, a senior at Little Flower Academy named Jane Ellerbeck. He contrived to drive her home, and they were married for 50 years. They had four children - Ray Jr., Michael, Angela and Matthew - and seven grandchildren.
The Torresan agency served a broad range of clients, from sports teams (Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions) and the hospitality industry (Four Seasons Hotels, Schenley Distilleries) to real-estate developers (Oxford Development, Whistler-Blackcomb) and resource industries (Diamond Fields Resources and other Robert Friedland projects).
But Ray's primary interest was politics. In his 20s, he accompanied Pierre Trudeau's election swing through British Columbia. Mr. Trudeau was one of five prime ministers Ray worked with.
Ray led a colourful life. He played basketball with Sammy Davis Jr., ran race horses with John Ferguson and kibbitzed with Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino.
In 2009, he took his whole family to Italy. Ten years of illness and procedures had begun, including leukemia, a brain aneurysm, open-heart surgery and prostate cancer.
Arto Tavukciyan, art director for many Torresan projects, said: "He was like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur together in one net, fending off shots. But in the end, there were just too many slap shots aimed at him."
At his requiem mass, Ray was quoted one last time: "I'm at peace with my Maker and everyone else."
"Isn't that just like an advertising man," said Monsignor Gregory Smith, "to write the best line for his own funeral."
Lyndon Grove is Ray's friend.