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Obituary: James Chalmers

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Canadian Manda Group co-founder James Chalmers died on April 25. He was 73.

Born in Scotland, Chalmers immigrated to Canada in 1956 with his family. He went on to build a career in publishing, working at Penguin Books before taking the helm at Manda Group, one of the continent’s largest commission-based book sales agencies, with co-founder and friend David Drew. After 23 years, Chalmers and Drew sold the company to then vice-president of sales Nick Smith and national sales manager Carey Low in 2003. Drew stepped down from Manda Group in 2005, with Chalmers following two years later. He remained in the industry, going on to consult for Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

“He was a voracious reader and really enjoyed publishing,” Drew said. “In the years that Manda grew from fundamentally nothing to a very big company, we split the work, and Jimmy’s criteria was that he loved to sell and to deal with people. He didn’t mind who he was dealing with: the big guys, the little guys, the independent guys. He was Mr. Sociable. And of course he was brilliant at organizing parties during the [Canadian Booksellers Association] period. We got quite infamous for our parties.”

Low, now Manda Group’s vice-president and partner, recalled the parties, along with Chalmers’s passions for golf and the Rolling Stones.

“Jim and David single-handedly brought the industry together at the iconic Manda Party. It was arguably the highlight of every publisher and bookseller’s professional year. It certainly was mine,” Low says. “Jim loved life, he loved people and he loved to laugh. He loved this business and the people who work in it. His contribution to everyone who had contact with Manda is profound, and his imprint on the Manda Group and our culture is evident in all we do to this day.”

Chalmers, who died of cancer, leaves wife Karen, children Larissa and John, grandchildren Jamieson, Charlie, and Jake, and great-grandson Jake.

A ceremony will be held in his honour at Islington Golf Club in Toronto on May 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. Donations, in lieu of flowers, can be made to the Dorothy Ley Hospice.