Bob and Norma Saunders have five children, three of whom worked with them at Saunders Subaru during the dealership’s 36- year run on the West Shore.
The eldest siblings, Helen Gilbert and Steve Saunders, took different career paths while Edie, Ruth and Dave have been key components for varying lengths of time in the day-to-day operations. The trio are continuing at the dealership for three months to assist with the transition to the Pattison Group, to ensure their customers get the same level of service.
Edie has two children, Adam and Stephanie; Ruth has three, Kristi, Luke and Vince, and Dave has daughters Megan, Maddison and Rachel.
Edie, Ruth and Dave were thrilled to share the news that their parents had received congratulations from Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Christy Clark on the occasion of their 60th anniversary in May. That speaks to the extraordinary impact their parents and the family has had on the West Shore, the Capital Region, the Cowichan Valley and Saltspring Island.
Both Edie and Ruth play hockey and Ruth has coached for many years as well. Dave coaches girls’ hockey and softball.
The Goldstream News Gazette sat down over lunch with Norma, Edie, Ruth and Dave to find out what they’ll miss the most and what lies ahead. Bob, 81, took advantage of his freshly minted retirement and went fishing that day. But, after apologizing profusely, he was happy to share his thoughts on the decision to sell, his family, the community and his plans for the future the next day.
“One of the reasons I let Bob open a used car lot was that I didn’t think there would be a lot of bookkeeping. Then he opened the dealership and I’ve been there ever since. When the Pattison people asked about something specific during the negotiations, I listed off a line item from the monthly report. After I gave them 20 items from memory, they knew I was on top of everything.
I had some real battles once we switched to computers, but I was never late with the monthly report. I’ll miss the daily routine, but not the bookkeeping deadlines. I’ll miss the relationships working with staff and family; I could always count on them being there. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, because it’s all so new to me. It’s nice to have some time to think about it.”
“I’ll miss the people who worked with the family and the relations we had with the staff. I worked six days a week, so when I told the kids we were selling the dealership, my son Adam, who’s 30, said he wanted a cartoon day because I was never home for one on Saturdays. I missed those days where my husband, Steve, would turn the living room into a fort, so I’m really looking forward to that first cartoon Saturday. I’m also really looking forward to playtime with the family and learning how to play crib. And my husband’s looking forward to me making him lunch for the first time in 32 years.”
“The hardest thing will be coming in and not seeing mom there. I’ll miss not being side by side with the family, and the relationships we had with our staff and customers. I remember one of our attendants complaining that he couldn’t get some tar off a car we had serviced. Mom told him to use some elbow grease so he went looking for it until mom showed him what she meant. I’m looking forward to more hockey and more golf. I got my motorcycle license 20 years too late in May, so I’m looking to more road trips as well.”
“I’m so proud of my mom and dad and sisters for starting something in tough times and building it into one of the most successful Subaru dealerships in Canada. I’ll miss hearing dad call every customer every single day to thank them for coming into the dealership, and I’ll miss the fun we had making commercials. I put my old business on hold four years ago, so I’m looking forward to getting back to excavating and developing (Dave’s company cleared the trees for Highland Pacific golf course) and working on other projects.
I’ll keep working with the Saunders Family Foundation, especially the Comfy Kids program. We had a family return the Comfy Car on the last day at the dealership. They were struggling with a child with cancer, and we wanted the people with the Pattison Group to see firsthand how appreciative they were so they understood how important this is to the family.
I’m president of Langford Softball, so that continues all year, and I’ll be coaching my daughter’s midget hockey team out of Juan de Fuca.
“It seemed like the right thing to sell now. The Pattison Group has been trying to get a deal done for years. I have so much respect for Jim Pattison, and I’m sure they will carry on the family tradition of supporting the community. It was great to close the deal with a handshake.
It was a tough, but not tough decision. Norma is the pillar of the family, and we didn’t make too many decisions without the family. We couldn’t have done it without their support. If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably have more kids. They’re all tireless workers. This gives the children a chance to move on.
The greatest gift you can have is the opportunity to support your community, and the West Shore community is great. The service clubs, sports organizations and the people are tremendous. You support them and they support you.
One of the top memories is sponsoring Olympic athletes, and also the Comfy Car program. Seeing kids go over to Vancouver and get well is wonderful, although sometimes you lose one and that’s very, very sad.
I also want to thank Black Press and the Gazette as well. They’ve always been there, and don’t get enough accolades or credit for what they do.
I’m looking forward to being more involved with service groups, sports groups, the foundation and the community. When you give back you get back, and it’s nice to do it from the heart. Coffee will always be on.”