The construction industry, Surrey and B.C.’s free-enterprise movement lost a legendary figure this weekend, when Lark Group founder Larry Fisher passed away after a long, furious fight with cancer.
So many great Surrey landmarks were built by Larry Fisher and Lark Group. And to be sure, many beyond the city as well – but Larry was Surrey’s most tireless booster.
He built the North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex, Excellent Ice, the three (and soon to be seven) City Centre buildings, Bill Reid Memorial, Laurel Place, the FVHRS Heritage Car Barn, Morgan Creek Golf Course and much more.
He put together an amazing team at Lark Group: Brilliant people who can build anything, and have expanded into recreation, care homes and health-technology businesses. But much of its success came down to Larry and his force of will.
He was a proud supporter of free enterprise in B.C., having seen firsthand the constricting effects of Dave Barrett’s NDP government on entrepreneurs and job creators in the early 1970s. He was a life member of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) and was instrumental in pushing then-premier Bill Bennett to open the Expo ‘86 construction contracts to all builders, whether they chose to be in union or open shops.
As a B.C. history buff, I was excited to be third wheel at a lunch with Larry and former ICBA president Phil Hochstein. They had worked together for more than 30 years; my job was to hear some old stories and pick up the tab.
Larry went up one side and down the other on Phil, in that way only old friends can. He gave Phil absolute hell for daring to retire in his mid-60s. “I’m going to work until the end,” Larry swore – and he did, working as Lark’s president for more than 50 years.
He had a great sense of the moment. As Lark Group built the Surrey building that now houses ICBA’s office, he told me to be ready.
“I’ll be able to give you 24 hours’ notice of when we pour your floor,” he said. “When it’s done, I’ll have them use the crane and hoist a desk up and on to it. Your job is to get [ICBA president] Chris [Gardner] there with a photographer.”
Sure enough, we got the notice, and we have an amazing photo of Chris and Larry, in full PPE, proudly standing behind a desk in the open air, with the Lark Group CC1 building looming behind them.
He also let me know that he could look down into my office from his boardroom on the 14th floor across the street, so he could keep an eye on me. I pointed out that I could just as easily see everyone Lark was meeting with, and he chuckled.
But I’ll remember Larry best for one incredible personal moment I shared with him.
Last April, Larry called and informed me that I’d be driving him to a political meet-and-greet downtown. ‘He must have a nicer car than mine,’ I thought, ‘but who says no to Larry Fisher?’
We passed several development sites along the way; Larry knew every company and subtrade working there. He chattered away, talking construction and politics.
Just as we got onto the viaduct, he pulled out his cell phone, and told me it was time to call his mother. I confess I was surprised – Larry was in his 80s. She answered, and Larry put her on speaker, and he introduced me to her as a friend. And then the most remarkable thing happened.
He started singing to her. I wish I could remember the song, but it was something from the 1940s, and he just sang it. She mumbled a bit and then jumped in, singing with him. When they were done, Larry told his mom he loved her, and he would call again tomorrow.
“I get her to sing every day,” he told me, tucking the phone away. “She remembers the old songs and it keeps her mind active.”
Then it was back to conversations about politics and business.
B.C. is a better place for having Larry Fisher help build it. I’m a better person for having known him.
Jordan Bateman is vice-president, communications and marketing, for the Independent Contractors and Business Association.