Community mourns Milan Ilich

Philanthropist, community leader and developer Milan Ilich passed away Wednesday following a long illness. - Chung Chow file photo
Philanthropist, community leader and developer Milan Ilich passed away Wednesday following a long illness.
— image credit: Chung Chow file photo

Richmond developer, philanthropist and community leader Milan Ilich died Wednesday following an extended illness.

Ilich built infrastructure across the province, advanced professional and amateur sports and supported numerous charitable causes over the years.

“As a community, a province, a country, we’ve lost a great British Columbian,” said John Yap, MLA for Richmond-Steveston.

Yap said Ilich was a great Canadian immigrant success story that resonates with so many Canadians—arriving here with little and through hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit, built a successful business.

What really impressed Yap about the man was how much he cared about the community.

“The story of Milan Ilich is a great Canadian example for all of us,” said Yap.

Born in the small northern B.C. mining town of Anyox to Yugoslavian parents, Ilich later settled in Richmond with his family of 10. During the Great Depression, Ilich left school to help bring food to the family table.

Ilich later carved out a career in the construction industry. In 1965, he and his wife Maureen invested their savings in a small business that has grown into the Progressive Group of Companies, which has been behind many development projects in Richmond and elsewhere.

In recent years, Ilich has become known more for his charitable contributions through the Milan and Maureen Ilich Foundation, which contributed half the $4-million needed to bring an MRI machine to Richmond Hospital.

His interest in building B.C. sports led him to invest in the Vancouver Giants hockey team. He’s also a former owner of the Vancouver 86ers soccer team.

He has provided support to countless others. In 2008, when The Richmond Review reported on the plight of a young mother who had just lost her husband and wasn’t sure how she’d pay her bills, Ilich handed the woman a dozen post-dated cheques worth $24,000.

Last fall the provincial government bestowed his highest honour on Ilich—the Order of B.C.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie called Ilich a “giant within the community.”

“There were very few community organizations that were not supported directly or indirectly by his contributions and his support,” said Brodie.

Sometimes the support would be financial—as the largest single donor to the Caring Place—but he also lent his personal support to various projects. Brodie said an example came when the city was building the oval, and Ilich stepped in as honourary chairman of the building committee.

Brodie said Ilich was also a dedicated family man who loved Richmond.

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