The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. - George Bernard Shaw
Among the most frequently heard songs at memorial services for deceased men is Paul Anka's "My Way", invariably performed by Frank Sinatra. It is a testament to the male ego that even those with the most rigid, rarely varied, hum drum, conservative and routine lives, somehow convince themselves that they and their machete carved an entirely new trail through the swamp. Applied to the life of David Ingram, the lyrics of "My Way" are a gross understatement.
David died late in the afternoon of February 21, 2011, leaving within those of us who knew, loved and admired him, an irreplaceable vacuum. He held court during his final weekend of life in the Palliative Care ward of the local hospital, surrounded by family, ex-wives and a steady parade of his best friends who came to honour a life truly well lived, and to make a fond farewell.
* * *
His family background in Winnipeg, Manitoba was confused, although not entirely unloving. His actual double-barrelled surname was "Towers Ingram", a by-product of atypical family roots and only limited certainty about genealogy. The middle name was Glen, although never used except in formal legal documents.
Family life and his childhood was split between Winnipeg and Regina. Out of this somewhat chaotic home life came an independent spirit and, surprisingly, a foundation of personal values that could be a beacon for any Christian.
During the 1960s, the coffee houses of Winnipeg became focal points of modern Canadian culture, regular venues for folk artists Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Ian & Sylvia, and many rock stars such as Ronnie Hawkins and Winnipeg's own Neil Young, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. The young David Ingram worked in these venues,
and also in Regina, and at a very young age, was promoted to manage
the 4th Dimension in Regina. His friendship with several of these international stars was his first brush with glory and the bright lights, and nothing after that would restrain his impulses for complete independence.
However, reality often postpones one's dreams. He needed a job. He wanted to travel. David answered an ad from H&R Block, the personal income tax specialists, and he enrolled in a training program. He mastered that business - predominantly simple personal tax returns - so fast he was soon managing an office and, before long, he had become an H&R Block supervisor responsible for a vast tract of United States geography beginning in the Midwest and running south as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
He eventually grew uncomfortable within the highly structured corporate environment of H&R Block. He was eager to return to Canada and he was nurturing an ambition to develop a multi-office tax business run to his own criteria. He found his opportunity in Vancouver in the early 1970s. Two entrepreneurs had cloned H&R Block and opened several offices under their brand name, CEN-TA, but they knew little about tax law or tax operations themselves. They advertised for a General Manager and David answered the call, driving what he thought was a hard bargain: a good salary, a performance bonus and shares.
Unfortunately, before much time passed, the founders disappeared, absconding with franchisees' money and leaving behind them a sea of debt, particularly overdue accounts at just about all media operations. All of this debris landed upon David although his lawyer advised him that he could be held legally responsible for none of it. He was advised to quit and let the creditors put the business into bankruptcy.
That he refused to do. He worked with the office owner/managers and assured them he would do his best to cover their backs, if they simply served their clients in a professional and honourable fashion. David crafted a survival plan and shared it with his creditors, particularly the media. He promised those who co-operated that they would eventually be paid in full, but he begged them to provide whatever advertising space or time they could afford to add to the overdue accounts.
Some of the historic CEN-TA debt was written off, but none of those who helped David Ingram build the new company ever regretted it. He charmed media into having him on air as a guest, dealing directly with listeners and their tax questions. Soon he became one of the highest-rated guest personalities on many radio stations. His public seminars always played to packed houses.
CEN-TA boomed, mostly independent franchises, and grew from coast to coast in Canada.
* * *
One day in 1973 I was leafing through our local community newspaper and came across a full page advertisement for the rental of office furniture. Embedded somewhere within this ad was a value-added item: at the same address, David Ingram would do your income tax return. I laughed so hard it made my day. At the time I was hosting British Columbia's pre-eminent public affairs radio program, a three hour daily show (weekdays) with newsmakers, celebrity guests and audience participation. Among my themes in 1973 was that people should be circumspect about their financial information, and seek the help of professionals to ensure they achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves. That included tax advice.
Until then, the experts I brought on the program to talk about income tax were chartered accountants, estate lawyers and sometimes bankers, all of whom had impressive credentials. Most, unfortunately, were also extremely boring. More disturbing was the realization that they seemed more concerned about impressing their professional colleagues than my listeners. It often struck me that if my typical caller owned IBM, he called the right place for tax advice. Unfortunately, none did.
However, after seeing the Ingram ad, the next day I had some fun at his expense. I joked to my listeners: "who in their right mind would get their tax return done at a place that rents office furniture?" I had some disparaging adjective to describe Ingram.
That afternoon, David called me and said he'd like to meet. Thinking this would be good for another chuckle, I agreed. We had a fascinating conversation about our respective experience and he handed me a list of about a dozen clear mistakes my last highly-credentialled guest made on the program. "The only basic personal income tax form these guys ever do is their own return," he said. That led to the first appearance by David Ingram on my radio program on what those days was a broadcasting battleship, CKNW. We never looked back. Over a 25-year span of history no other guest ever appeared on my show as frequently or effectively, nor pleased such a vast audience so consistently.
David Ingram was highly creative and interpretative about tax law and regulations. He explored the grey or fuzzy areas of law with the same zeal that a prospector would use in a hunt for precious metals. But he was adamant about one thing: declare all income. He'd lecture clients about tax management and avoidance, but never to cross the road into the slightest hint of evasion.
He caused so many headaches for other established accountants and officials of Revenue Canada, he invariably had small armies of detractors trying to find fault with him. They would talk about "lack of credentials," or "a loose nut" or other disparaging things about his apparent lifestyle. They would warn others, "one day he will get you in trouble." Never could they find fault with his advice nor could they ever define how Ingram might do them wrong in the future. At the height of this controversy, when he would go to Ottawa, he would always meet discreetly with many of the top officials of Revenue Canada and help them with their own tax returns. I fondly recall hosting a debate on my program between David and an Assistant Deputy Minister from Revenue Canada. They began the show as adversaries and ended as friends. We adjourned to the nearby hotel bar for two more hours of good discussion.
On another occasion, two prominent Vancouver finance professionals, one of them a realtor and the other a banker, had been critical to me about David. I invited them to come on the program and debate him on any issue they chose. Very nervous at first but not wanting to back away from a "dare" they accepted, "to put the record straight." It was an early evening show on a beautiful summer night. The two stiff professionals in suit and tie, who had never done public media before, arrived about an hour ahead of time (the pros arrive with minutes to spare), obviously concerned that they shouldn't have accepted this challenge. They grew more nervous as the program start approached.
At the last minute, Ingram blew into the studio, wearing leather pants and a bomber jacket open from his waist to his neck displaying a hairy chest and pot belly, with a motorcycle helmet under his arm. I thought my horror-stricken guests would momentarily erupt with diarrhoea. That program also turned out to be an extraordinary success, ending as friends and finishing the night with drinks in the bar.
David and I shared a number of consumer-service campaigns. One involved the giant companies of the Canadian insurance industry. He and others had brought to my attention some exploitative "whole life" insurance policies being marketed by most national firms. The up front fees and commissions were extortionate. A client would pay premiums faithfully for 2-3 years or more, getting insurance protection, but not the "savings" component that supposedly was central to the sales pitch. Years would pass before that part of the deal paid off all of the up-front fees. These policies were so bad they ought to have been criminal. Ingram and I exposed the details of policy after policy, comparing the cost to dividing the feature in two: the real cost of insurance and the true value of the savings if vested in bank accounts or Canada Savings Bonds. Every comparison made the insurance companies look like complete shysters.
Lawsuits were threatened. Our response was "bring them on!" At one point the executive director of the Chartered Life Underwriters of Canada issued a national warning to members to avoid a "certain radio program" and "tax advisor" in Vancouver.
A funny thing happened. For about 10 years, the rest of Canada outsold B.C. 5-1 in these unacceptable insurance plans. Gradually other critics got on the bandwagon and the whole Canadian insurance industry revised its product line. There was then as there is now, a place in the portfolio for "whole life" insurance policies, if sold to the right client, for the right reasons and at fair market value.
* * *
I've used the word "eccentric" frequently to describe David Ingram.
- his earliest promotional gimmick was a limitless supply of cheap plastic pens which he gave out all over Vancouver by the handful. For a decade or more, it was impossible to go to a restaurant or any retail business requiring signatures, without seeing these pens.
- his was the first office I visited that had imposed a 100 percent ban on tobacco smoking (1973). I'm embarrassed to recall that he only made one exception to that rule - me - for whom he hid an ashtray in his desk. I became decreasingly impressed with myself until I quit smoking in 1988. Along the way, he had never said a word about it, but he became a powerful, positive influence, nevertheless.
- during one of our earliest programs, I complimented David for his courage in taking on establishment institutions on behalf of my listeners, and I described him as "a real gunfighter". Not long after, my late lawyer Charles R. Maclean - another character - David and I emerged from a local hotel. As we walked up to David's gaily painted Datsun 240Z, we not only saw advertisements for his business, but bold script down the side proclaiming: "BC GUNFIGHTER" Maclean asked incredulously, "What's this?" Ingram responded that it was his car. Maclean replied: "I almost put a quarter in it!"
Ingram loved the nickname Gary Bannerman dubbed him with - "GUNFIGHTER" -
and he had one of his cars (a Datsun 240Z) painted to advertise the fact.
- his passions were many, always eager to be different. He'd return from travels with items such as hats made of snakeskin, Indian masks and alligator leather boots.
- he became an eager competitor in the World Bellyflop and Cannonball Diving competition held annually in Vancouver for years and subsequently in Hawaii. The event often achieved international television coverage.
- through an introduction from David, I met the General Manager of a spendid resort in the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, not far from Antigua. My wife Patricia and I took a wonderful holiday there. I had only one complaint. The service was so all-encompassing that you could hardly ever rest. Someone was always at the door with ice, towels, flowers, coupons or whatever. One blissful afternoon, the fan turning over my head, I was settling into a terrific nap when there came a pounding at the door. I jumped up ready to give someone a piece of my mind, opened the door, and there was David, just off a plane from Toronto. He was fully attired in a grey flannel business suit and tie, and his alligator boots, sweltering in the 95º F. heat. Not long after we were off to the market to shop for more suitable Caribbean attire.
- an unforgettable memory for us all came on the same trip. We spontaneously decided to spend a couple of days in New York en route home. David was able to link up with his sister and her medical doctor husband, who were visiting from Mobile, Alabama. During this trip I hosted them all at Windows on the World, the spectacular North Tower (Tower 1) of the World Trade Center. It was our second and final visit and David's one and only.
- his sailing sorties, rarely intended to be more than a social day on the water, often became memorable adventures. One time we were out in English Bay, four neophytes and David on the tiller. I was sitting in the stern with him. At one point, he got up to fetch something and I saw his wallet bounce out of a back pocket and into the wake. It was disappearing fast, but still floating, as David adeptly dove in after it. I had no idea what to do so I yanked as hard as possible on the tiller, and the 37-foot yacht responded. Our amateur crew was horrified as the mainsail topmast skimmed the water by inches before uprighting itself just as we reached David and his wallet. Getting him back aboard rivalled Moby Dick without the proper tools. On another occasion, he kindly offered to host Patricia and I, my visiting sister and a girlfriend of hers. We no sooner left the berth than something mechanical popped. We managed to make it cross harbour to one of the floating gas stations near Stanley Park. As we ate our picnic, David spent the afternoon diving through the oil slick attempting to fix the problem. Once in English Bay, with other guests, the steering wheel came off into David's hands. We had to await a tow back to his berth in North Vancouver.
Gary struggles to pull David back aboard the yacht after the Ingram wallet was rescued (1975)
- David collected old cars, particularly Cadillacs circa 1980-1990, but rarely did much to fix them up. His house - the CEN-TA office for the past several years - was surrounded by these vehicles, making the neighbourhood often look like the day after a demolition derby. His pride and joy was an early 1950s U.S. police car, complete with bubble gum machine on top. He made a tidy income renting it out to movie producers.
- he liked nothing better than people-oriented travel. Twice he loaded his whole family into a very old Winnebago (festooned with CEN-TA advertising on the outside) and toured from coast-to-coast in Canada and across the United States. He loved parking in public lots and at shopping centres, chatting with all passers-by.
- another passion was the exposure to the magnificent north of Canada and the United States, and the wildlife, travelling with his great friend, renowned naturalist and publisher David Hancock.
* * *
Despite his less than screen idol or athletes' physique, Ingram was quite a ladies man. He was always surrounded by attractive, intelligent and interesting women. Yet most of us who liked and admired him most, found it impossible to conceive living with him amid the turbulence, the obsessive work habits (sometimes 24 hours a day and more) and spontaneity of his daily life.
His three ex-wives (one common law) were with him during the final days of his life, each immeasurably fond of him despite previously deciding that life under one roof was impossible. There were casual relationships in between the wives. David evoked chuckles and sarcastic disbelief among his friends and colleagues when he advised them of his friendship with Angie Dickinson, in that era, just about the most desirable Hollywood star among North American males. David met her during a movie shoot in Vancouver, but built the relationship through Los Angeles visits and phone calls. One day when he was taking untold abuse from his friends about this "mythical relationship", David produced a photo. He was shown sucking Angie's toes. We never did learn if the intimacy went beyond that, but it sure silenced the crowd.
His first wife, Gloria Ingram, became a CEN-TA franchise owner and such an expert in so many areas of the business that David would occasionally call her for advice. Gloria is the mother of David's first child Wendy, who also has remained close to him. Wendy's daughter is David's one and only grandchild. His multi-year companionship, a considerable period of which living together, with Marge remained a highlight of his life.
However, the most profound impact came through his marriage to Jose Rogers of Powell River, B.C. in 1982, who was well known in Vancouver as a result of her management work in prominent restaurants. Jose and David had three children, all now young adults: Peter, Mitchell and Jane, all three of whom lived with their father until his passing. As the children grew older Jose, too, became part of the business, acquiring a real estate licence and working every day at the CEN-TA office.
If David remained affectionate with respect to his wives and former lady friends, he quite simply adored - always - his four children.
David and daughter Jane, the youngest of four children, in May, 1992
* * *
David Ingram was the kindest and most caring man whom I have ever met. He rarely had a bad word to say about anyone, even those who had been abusive toward him, or lied or even stole things. He had staff members who occasionally cheated clients. He would always take responsibility, making complete refunds, even in cases where the clients had not noticed a problem.
He was frequently slandered and libelled in public, invariably by people who did not know him. He would never retaliate or answer in kind. He never sued anyone.
During the most uncomfortable chapter of his business life, because of bookkeeping sloppiness across the CEN-TA franchisee network, he took it all on the chin at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Revenue Canada determined that a high percentage of the CEN-TA offices - all independent from David - had failed to file income tax returns. Since many of these offices operate only for a few months each year, around the personal tax deadline, it often became impossible to trace the delinquent owners.
Finally, the federal government filed suit against David and his national headquarters, attempting to hold him responsible for their rough estimate of gross revenue by these offices. RCMP officers, one of them a personal friend, casually visited David's office to request all appropriate files. This informal visit was reported next day in the local and national press as: "RCMP RAID INGRAM'S OFFICE."
The Revenue Canada officials knew that franchise profits in the CEN-TA network could not be significant, if at all, and that none of the mythical money made it to Vancouver and David. Yet paperwork had to be served. His lawyers immediately advised David to go into bankruptcy and a few well placed friends within Revenue Canada privately told him that nobody expected to win money from the case, but that nobody had authority to close the file.
David refused for years to quit. He won the issue in Federal Tax Court, but Revenue Canada kept appealing to more senior courts. David won every appeal. Yet the issue flatly refused to go away and, finally, about the time of his divorce with Jose, he threw in the towel. He went personally bankrupt, preserving the CEN-TA name, allowing Revenue Canada to close the file. Through the ordeal, his true friends never left his side and it became a good lesson about who actually cared.
David Ingram was never terribly religious in any formal or churchgoing sense, but he was one of few around who could genuinely say they adhered to the Christian tenet of "turn the other cheek."
If we could speak to David Ingram right now, my wife Patricia and I, all of the Bannerline associates and our friends who were his friends, would sincerely express the hope that "you are going to a place which will give you the hero's welcome you deserve."