F. Peter Cundill 1938-2011

Posted on Tuesday, February 8, 2011

F. Peter Cundill

The following is an abbreviated version of a statement delivered on Feb. 2 in the Senate of Canada by the Honourable Michael A. Meighen on the passing of F. Peter Cundill. Senator Meighen has graciously allowed the Reporter to publish it.

With the death in London on Jan. 24, 2011, of Francis Peter Cundill, Canada lost one of her most remarkable individuals and the investment world lost one of its most distinguished and successful practitioners. And I, honourable Senators, lost a cherished friend of over 60 years.

Peter Cundill was born in Montréal and graduated from McGill University in 1960 with a Bachelor of Commerce. He became a chartered accountant and subsequently received his designation as a Chartered Financial Analyst. He worked in the investment business initially in Montreal before moving to Vancouver where he became President of AGF Investment Management and where, in 1974, he established his flagship Cundill Value Fund – a fund that made him famous and richly rewarded thousands of investors, not the least those with small resources and precious savings. A disciple of the legendary American economist and investor Benjamin Graham, he formed personal relationships with Sir John Templeton and Warren Buffett. Indeed the “Sage of Omaha” once observed that Cundill had the kind of credentials he was looking for in his search for his next chief investment officer.

Credited with having “shaken up the Canadian money management industry,” Peter Cundill’s record over 35 years as a global mutual fund manager was unrivalled and in 2001 earned him the Analysts’ Choice Career Achievement Award in recognition of proven superior performance and his lifetime contribution to the financial community. At the award ceremony, Peter was introduced as the “Indiana Jones of Canadian Money Managers” – an epithet in which he took great delight. His investment style was characterized by integrity and patience. At his annual general meeting in 1985 he astonished a packed hall when he cautioned them: “We are having a difficult time finding anything we want to buy. Don’t send me your money!”

But Peter Cundill was in no sense a one-dimensional man. Springing from his innate curiosity, his interests were eclectic. He was a voracious reader on a wide range of subjects, a faithful diarist, an inveterate traveller, a generous philanthropist and a devoted runner who completed 22 marathons including a “Sub 3 hour” when over 40. Peter relished sports and physical challenges of all kinds: tennis, handball, squash, rugby, skiing, hiking – Peter did them all with skill and enthusiasm.

The iron discipline employed in his investment career was generally replicated in his personal habits. Cigars? Yes, but only on Thursdays. Martinis? Only on Fridays But it did not extend to junk food and ice cream for which he had an irrepressible craving!

Peter had an abiding interest in history arising – some would say – from an examination that he failed at McGill in 1959. Traumatic though this experience was, the more likely cause was his belief that it is only possible to comprehend the present and arrive at a measured perspective about the future if we understand the past. As a result, in 2008, he founded The Cundill International Prize in History at McGill, the largest in the world, and designed to encourage the writing of history for a general audience.

In a cruel twist of fate for one who was a physical fitness devotee for almost 50 years, Peter was diagnosed in 2006 with an untreatable neurological condition. But not surprisingly for those who knew him, he never once complained or wallowed in self-pity. Rather, he embraced the challenge of his condition with unwavering cheerfulness and a determination to lead as full a life as possible.

His book entitled, There’s Always Something To Do: The Peter Cundill Investment Approach, will stand as his enduring legacy and, to his immense delight, he received the first copy just two days before his death.

While Peter Cundill has left us, his influence will continue to be felt for many years to come through his contributions to the financial world, to philanthropy and to the broader community. I feel fortunate to have known this unusual and extraordinary individual for as long and as well as I did.

Peter is survived by his step-daughter Evelyn, step-son Roger, as well as his brother Grier to whom I offer my most sincere sympathy.

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