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Kevin Kavanagh was a leader in business and philanthropy, a man of faith and intellect, but most especially of family. He was a man for others.
Born in Brandon in 1932, Kevin left at 17 years old to join the Royal Canadian Naval reserve and to begin his commerce degree at the University of Manitoba.
His naval days left a wake of memories, including two sails to Alaska and Hawaii and he kept his connections to HMCS Chippawa for many decades after his service.
From university, he began a long and distinguished career at Great-West Life in 1953 as a Group Representative. In 1979, he was appointed President and CEO. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of Great-West Life and Great-West Lifeco from 1978 until 2009.
To say Kevin brought enormous passion, focus, and dedication to the company would be a significant understatement. He was so interested in the insurance business that just last week he was in the process of creating a new Group product. Thinking of how insurance could be of benefit to clients and the company was his endless fascination!
His unrelenting drive was tempered by a concern for people. Our family has often been stopped by people with an anecdote of Kevin's kindness or simple genuine interest in their well-being.
He was an intense listener. He lived by a simple mantra of "Listen, ask questions, then talk".
He believed very strongly in the importance of building a better community both nationally and locally. He served on the numerous boards including the Conference of Board of Canada, National Leasing Group, Manitoba Business Council, Banff Centre for Arts, and The Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Through his wife Els's passion for the arts, he became to appreciate both the artists and the art of the symphony and the ballet. But true to his prairie roots, he also loved to go to the Jets games.
Although he had many interests, education was Kevin's consistent focus. He demonstrated this as the Asper School of Business Executive in Residence, as Chancellor of Brandon University, as member of the Roblin Commission on post-secondary education, as strong supporter for St. Paul's High School and College, and recently his interest in Gonzaga Middle School in Point Douglas. Kevin believed good education was the solution to many problems.
He received the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from the University of Manitoba, the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba.
For all of his many successes, it was his nearly 60 years of marriage to Els which he valued most. Together they were a force of nature. The way they looked at each other was simply the definition of love and left anyone around them in awe. They teased each other relentlessly, travelled together valiantly and held conversations constantly - from the sublime to the ridiculous!
Most of all, Kevin and Els cherish their children, Sean and Jennifer and their grandsons, Will and John. Family gatherings at the lake were legendary with lively discussions and debates on every imaginable topic. To his family, he was our role model, cheerleader, and friend. He always had time to listen to our challenges and our victories. Our problems were his. He would often say, I don't know necessarily what to say but I am here for you.
Kevin is survived by his wife, Els; his son Sean (Melissa Ridgen); his daughter Jennifer Moncrieff (Hugh Moncrieff); grandsons, Will and John Moncrieff, his brother and sister-in-law, Hubert Mesman and Renee DeMeyer Mesman; his brother-in-law, Harry Mesman and his family; his nephews, the Bennetts and their families in France.
A private family mass was held on Thursday, June 18.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Paul's High School, Gonzaga Middle School, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, or The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

As published in Winnipeg Free Press on Jun 20, 2020

Condolences & Memories (16 entries)

  • So sorry to hear belatedly of the loss of Kevin. We were privilaged to host him along with Jennifer and Will back in June 2015 for a precious family gathering in Dublin. He will be greatly missed by Els and you all. He has left a great legacy of integrity, family values and happy memories. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís. Edel Murphy and family - Posted by: Edel Murphy (Cousin) on: Nov 03, 2020

  • Having just learned of Kevin's passing, we offer our sympathy to Els, Jennifer and Hugh, Will and John, Sean and Melissa. Kevin was first cousin to my father, Peter Murphy, Kevin's father Martin being my father's uncle. We enjoyed a lovely family gathering with Kevin and Jennifer at the home of my sister, Edel, in Dublin, c. 2015. I also had the privilege of meeting Kevin and Els when they stayed at my brother John's home at Craanford, Gorey, County Wexford in the early 90's. The Murphy family knew Kevin's father, Martin, well from his many trips back to Ireland in his later years. Reading Kevin's obituary, it is clear that he was a wonderful husband and father, while also making a most impressive contribution to the life of Manitoba and Canada. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal (May his noble soul be on the right-hand side of God). Sylvester Murphy and Mary Doyle - Posted by: Sylvester Murphy and Mary Doyle (Relative in Ireland) on: Nov 02, 2020

  • Was googling Martin Kavanagh whom I remember well as he often stayed at our home on trips to Wexford Ireland when I learned of Kevins Passing. Kevin and Elys stayed at our home in the early nineties in Craanford Gorey. Last met Kevin at my sister Edel’s home in Dublin about 6/7 years ago with Jennifer. Kevin was first cousin of my late Father Peter. Just like to express our sympathies. John and Mary Murphy - Posted by: John Murphy (Irish relative. ) on: Oct 29, 2020

  • Kevin was a very special friend to Audrey since childhood (as was his sister Mary) and introduced her to her future husband of 55 years.. Keith Jarvis. Kevin was also best man at their wedding and godfather to their first born Kathy. The Jarvis family would like to honour Kevin with a donation to St. Paul’s High School. We appreciate his friendship and kindness to our Mother after Keith’s passing in 2013. Our blessing to Els and the family. With love, The Jarvis’. - Posted by: Audrey Jarvis and family (Long term friend ) on: Jul 23, 2020

  • Very sorry to hear of Mr. Kavanagh’s passing. He was a distinguished gentleman, so interesting to chat with, elegant and eloquent. Warmest regards. - Posted by: Doug & Pamela Orr (Business Aquaintances) on: Jul 06, 2020

  • Kevin Kavanagh was the first GWL President that we in the Group Department considered our own. I remember his ability to put a young group guy at ease with no particular reason than to simply say hello and ask how you were. My condolences to Els and the rest of Kevin’s family. - Posted by: George A Garbutt (Former Group Supervisor, Calgary) on: Jul 01, 2020

  • I was hired by Mr. Kavanagh in 1973 at the Denver, Colorado GWL office and worked for him until he returned to Canada a few years later. What a kind, intelligent, dignified man, with great patience and vision. I learned so much from him and enjoyed his intellectual sense of humor and guidance. I always thought kindly of him and his beautiful wife, Els. My condolences to the Kavanagh family and my thoughts to you, Mr. Kevin Kavanagh: job well done. - Posted by: Shirley Hijar (Former Employee) on: Jun 27, 2020

  • To Els Kavanagh, Please accept my most sincere condolences. Kevin was good man and treated me well. Best Regards Ken Joelson - Posted by: Ken Joelson (Past Chef GWL) on: Jun 22, 2020

  • Jennifer, Hugh, Will and John and well as Mrs. Kavanagh and Sean, my condolences to you. I met your Dad only a few times, most memorably for me, at your wedding. He was so welcoming. May the memories you have support your over the next years. The laughter and conversations you had will come back to you when you need them most. My thoughts and prayers will go with you as you adjust to this huge change in your life. Love to you all. - Posted by: Ginny Thiessen (Friend to Jennifer) on: Jun 22, 2020

  • I became acquainted with Martin Kavanagh, Kevin's father, when I taught with him at Brandon Collegiate in 1960-61. I helped Martin publish a second edition of his book "Assiniboine Basin" in the mid-1960 s. I worked for a year at Great-West in 1957-58 prior to going for my M.A. degree. Kevin, a former Chancellor at Brandon University demonstrated his loyalty to BU when he returned to attend our "Last Hurrah" event in 2009. He left his vacation home in Florida in order to attend. I met Kevin only briefly but he impressed me a lot. I extend condolences to Kevin' s wife Els and his family. - Posted by: Michael Czuboka: (Friend of Kevin's late father Martin Kavnagh:) on: Jun 21, 2020

  • Heartfelt thoughts to Mr. Kavanagh's family and friends. He was such a fine man and so pleased to chat with him over the years in the office. He was always interested and when GWL made the live 1979 Christmas Tree out on GWL lawn stood in the first row with him. He was truly our foundation that day and in the years to come. Cherish your many memories of such a true gentleman. - Posted by: Lynn Checkley (GWL ) on: Jun 21, 2020

  • What an amazing tribute to Mr Kavanagh! Having had the privilege of knowing him since "Grade 4", he was an extremely learned and well-read men - always with books on the go. But always willing to put them down to indeed - listen and lean in. His opinions and well-balanced insights were deservedly highly sought after both professionally and personally. His generosity was unbounded and his moral compass clearly set. He was also an amazing ambassador for Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. My own life to date has been greatly inspired by his respect and deep appreciation of his fabulous family, friends, work, wilderness and more. The world has lost a great man, but one who consciously set up the next generation and more to keep his flame and legacy alive. xo - Posted by: Cari Gray (Family Friday) on: Jun 21, 2020

  • Our condolences on your loss, he will be greatly missed. We will always remember Kevin rescuing us, with Debbie 7 months pregnant, at Falcon Lake when our car had broken down. Without hesitation, Kevin offered us his vehicle for the weekend. Over the years, we loved having Kevin and Els at our annual pig roast, as Kevin loved the pork. Kevin was a great supporter over my career and it was very much appreciated. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this sorrowful time. Denis and Debbie Devos - Posted by: Denis and Debbie Devos (Fellow employee and friend) on: Jun 20, 2020

  • To Els Kavanagh Please accept our most sincere condolences. Kevin was a good friend and a good, good man. Best Regards Monique and Paul Kelly - Posted by: PaulKelly (Friend) on: Jun 20, 2020

  • I will always remember Mr Kavanagh’s warm smile and friendly “Good morning” in the halls of GWL. More recently, we chatted, walking the track at the Rady Centre; still sporting that smile. A gentleman who will be missed and remembered by so many. - Posted by: Carolyn Daly (Former employee) on: Jun 20, 2020

  • So sorry to hear of Mr. Kavanagh's passing. My prayers are with the family. He brought such a presence when he walked into the building. When you said "good morning or good afternoon Mr. Kavanagh", he gave you this little nod and grin to say you know who I am! So glad to have worked at Great-West Life when he was President; a good man who really felt employees and clients mattered. May he rest in peace. - Posted by: MaryAnne Siwicki (Employee at Great-West Life) on: Jun 20, 2020

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