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Ron Joyce, force behind Tim Hortons doughnut shops, dies at 88

Ron Joyce, a high school dropout and former police officer who helped make the Tim Hortons fast-food stores a ubiquitous part of Canada’s landscape, died Jan. 31 at his home in Burlington, Ontario. He was 88.

His son Steven confirmed the death.

Tim Hortons, which started as a doughnut and coffee shop but later expanded into other fare, dominates Canada’s fast-food business to an extraordinary degree. There is one Timmies, as the shops are popularly known, for every 9,800 Canadians. By contrast, McDonald’s restaurants in the United States number one per 23,100 people.

As he neared the end of his hockey career, which was spent mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tim Horton founded the company that bears his name with Jim Charade, a Toronto businessman, in 1964. Charade left the company early on, and Mr. Joyce became Horton’s partner in 1966.

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Horton, by then with the Buffalo Sabres, died in a car crash in early 1974 when the brand’s stores, like its doughnuts, were counted by the dozen. Mr. Joyce took full control of the company in 1975 by buying the half interest held by Lori Horton, Tim Horton’s widow, for 1 million Canadian dollars and a Cadillac Eldorado. (Lori Horton, who died in 2000, unsuccessfully sued Mr. Joyce to recover that stake.)

He then led the expansion that eventually turned the chain into a national phenomenon, taking it from 40 stores to 3,665 in Canada and another 1,135 in the United States and other countries.

Ronald Vaughan Joyce was born on Oct. 19, 1930, in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. His father, Willard, who struggled to find work in construction during the Great Depression, died in a road accident when Ron was 3. His mother, Grace (Jollymore) Joyce, often left Ron and his two siblings with relatives so she could take jobs to supplement her widow’s pension.

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Mr. Joyce landed in Hamilton, Ontario, where, after a stint working in a tire factory, he became a police officer. He married Lynda Korolenchuk in 1949 and joined the Royal Canadian Navy, where he served for five years before the couple divorced in 1958.

In 1963 he married Theresa McEwan. The couple separated in 1975. According to his 2006 memoir, “Always Fresh,” written with Robert Thompson, Mr. Joyce had seven children between the two marriages. Complete information on survivors was not available.

To boost his income, Mr. Joyce purchased a Dairy Queen franchise the same year he remarried. Turned down by the company for a second franchise, he visited the first Tim Hortons doughnut shop, a converted service station in Hamilton.

He borrowed $10,000 Canadian dollars from a credit union and bought the store as a franchise. He quit the police force to run the store full time and worked with a baker who, Mr. Joyce said in his memoir, set the nightly production levels after consulting a Ouija board.

Soon the business turned around and he and Horton became partners in the parent company, which began selling franchises in other locations in the Hamilton area.

“People grew up with our coffee and donuts and when they moved to places like Toronto, they were looking for the familiar, which is what we offered,” he wrote.

In 1996 he sold the business to the US hamburger chain Wendy’s for about $600 million Canadian dollars in cash and stock. While Mr. Joyce became the largest shareholder in the combined company, he later said that he regretted the sale.

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