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NWT loses diamond mining giant
Bob Gannicott, who helped found Dominion Diamond Corp., dies at 69 after battle with leukemia

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Yellowknife and the NWT has lost a diamond mine industry giant with the passing of Robert Gannicott a week ago today.

NNSL photo/graphic

Co-founder of Dominion Diamond Corp. died on Aug. 3 at age 69 after lengthy battle with leukemia. - photo courtesy of Dominion Diamond Corp.

According to news release from Dominion Diamond Corp., Gannicott died at age 69 in the United Kingdom where he was receiving treatment for leukemia. His life-partner Geraldine Peacock was at his side, according to the release.

Born in England, Gannicott came to Canada in 1967 and soon began work as a geologist at Giant Mine. He travelled around the world for work but always returned to the North.

Gannicott was a member of the board of directors of Dominion Diamond since its inception as a diamond company in 1992, according to the release. He was chairman of the board from June 2004 until April 2016 and was chief executive officer of the company from September 1999 until July 2015. Gannicott led the company through its growth following its discovery and founding of the Diavik Diamonds project in 1994 and 1995, through to the acquisition of the U.S. diamond jewelry brand Harry Winston.

He later took advantage of an opportunity with the acquisition of the Ekati Diamond Mine and the sale of Harry Winston. He is credited with returning the company to its roots as a "pure-play" Canadian diamond miner. The company was then re-named Dominion Diamond Corporation.

Former Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister and Yellowknife South MLA Brendan Bell took over as Dominion's CEO just over a year ago when Gannicott stepped down for health reasons.

"It is a sad day at Dominion. Bob Gannicott was a visionary and a pillar of the Canadian diamond industry," stated Bell in a news release. "He built the company from the ground up, taking it from a junior mining company to what it is today as Canada's largest independent diamond producer. Bob was an exceptional leader as well as a good friend and mentor. He will be deeply missed by all who had the good fortune to work with him and to know him."

Former Yellowknife resident Chuck Fipke was one of Gannicott's early business partners. He said he was devastated when he learned of Gannicott's death.

"He never wanted any sympathy. We talked on the phone after he got sick and he was always upbeat. We had planned to go to a horse race in England and obviously I regret now that it didn't happen," Fipkie said. He added that Gannicott loved the North and felt that the people who ran the diamond mines should be from the North and like himself, felt that it was important that he live in Yellowknife and have his diamond business based here. Fipke said that when they both lived in Yellowknife, he would often meet up with Gannicott for lively, engaging conversation over social beverages at the Gold Range Tavern.

Former NWT finance and environment and natural resources minister Michael Miltenberger said the North lost a good man in Gannicott. He added some of his visionary ideas are still on the drawing board but will likely get done, including an all-weather road to the diamond mines.

"I met him through my role as minister and MLA. He wasn't that old . a mere four years older than me. God rest his soul," Miltenberger said. "Unlike a lot of mine executives whistling in and out - advancing their career opportunities by being here for a couple of months or years - he was committed to the North - doing things that would not only help his bottom line but would help Northerners."

Miltenberger said people involved in mining in the North would agree with him that Dominion has had a much larger, real presence in the North than the other diamond companies operating in the territory. "He came from away but he always made the North his home. Even when he got into the big-time diamond business he still stayed true to the North," Miltenberger said. "We had a chance meeting early in the morning when I was walking to work in the winter of 2015 and it was from that conversation . that we began to move on the idea of converting the ice road into all-weather road up to McKay Lake, which would be a game-changer for the Slave Geological Province."

Miltenberger said Gannicott was the face of Northern diamond production, an industry that he said accounts for about 40 per cent of the NWT's gross domestic product.

Richard Morland, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce and a former industry colleague, also issued a statement on Gannicott's passing.

"True leaders don't just do things right, they do the right things," Morland stated. "Bob had a single-minded commitment to the North and to the diamond industry that is so important to the economy of the North. He believed that the industry was of the North, for the benefit of Northerners and that it should be run by people living in the North. That's why Bob lived in Yellowknife and why Dominion's head office was located in Yellowknife as he promised it would when Dominion was formed."

As well, Premier Bob McLeod weighed in with his thoughts and condolences on behalf of the territorial government following Gannicott's death.

"I was saddened to hear of Bob Gannicott's passing. Bob contributed immeasurably to the growth and evolution of both our economy and our territory," McLeod stated in a news release. "From truly Northern beginnings as a geologist at Yellowknife's Giant Mine, he engineered the growth of a company which realized heralded international success but never lost sight of its commitment to the NWT - and the resources and people from which it drew its value and strength."

Flags at the legislative assembly were to be lowered to half mast on the day of Gannicott's memorial. It was not yet clear, as of press time, exactly when it will be held.

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