Paul Soubry Sr., a longtime pillar of Manitoba's manufacturing sector, has died. He was 79.

The former head of Manitoba-based companies such as Versatile Farm Equipment and Ford New Holland Canada Ltd. is being remembered as a savvy and meticulous business leader, a strong supporter of the community and a loving family man.

Born in Belgium, he came to Canada at a young age and carved out a successful 45-year career in the farm equipment industry, all without a formal university education.

Ron Koslowsky, vice-president of the Manitoba division of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said he got to know Soubry while an executive at Palliser Furniture and Soubry was on its board of directors.

"He was an absolute gentleman, a great guy with very practical wisdom," he said. "He was always thinking about others. He cared about the community he lived in and he loved his family. He was the kind of guy you instantly felt warm to and good about being with," Koslowsky said.

Soubry retired in December 1995, but he wasn't idle for long. He was appointed to the University of Manitoba's board of governors three months later and became its chairman the following year, a post he would hold for the next five years.

Emoke Szathmary, former president of the University of Manitoba, served under Soubry during those years. She said when he first came on board, although he valued education very highly, he didn't know much about the university and carried a number of misconceptions about it.

"By the time he finished, he was the best-informed board chair that we've ever had. He was a highly dedicated and disciplined individual. That self-discipline meant when he was given a responsibility, he carried it through," she said.

"There wasn't a day that went by where he didn't ask questions. Eventually, we got to know that was because he cared so deeply about the institution."

At a special convocation at the University of Manitoba in October 2003, at which he was awarded a doctorate of law degree, Soubry told the graduating class that he was one of the luckiest people on earth.

"Perfect strangers had enough trust and confidence in me that they were willing to give an immigrant without a formal post-secondary education a chance and were willing to invest in (my) training," he said.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Louise, six children, Mark, Greg, Ann, Paul, Marina and Veronique, and 15 grandchildren. A funeral mass is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. John Brebeuf Parish Church, with a reception to follow at St. Charles Country Club.

A fund is being set up in his name at the U of M to award a scholarship each year to a deserving international student who wants to study in Canada.