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Bill Lombardo: Businessman, Entrepeneur, Philanthropist

A Windsor-area entrepreneur, philanthropist and dedicated community and family man, William Lombardo was a big man with an even bigger heart, always looming larger than life. On March 27th he died peacefully, at a hospital in his hometown.

Born in Windsor in 1930 to Angelo and Regina Lombardo, working class Italian immigrants, William was given the middle name Secondo, denoting his position as the second of three children.

Like many young Canadians, Bill and his older brother, Bob, aspired to leave behind old country traditions and embrace their family’s new start. An aging photo, taken when Bill was just a little boy, foreshadows their ultimately divergent career paths – Angelo Lombardo poses on a Windsor street with the two boys; dressed in school uniform, Bob looks proud and scholarly, with books in hand, while his smaller and younger sibling appears rather forlorn, clutching a toy shovel.

By the early 1940s Bob had already left home, initially toiling as a soldier and then at medical school, before settling into a career as a doctor in Chicago. Just like George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, Bill stayed behind to help out with the family business. As a teenager he joined his father’s construction company and then married Jina Innocente, his high school sweetheart. Soon after, Bill Jr. was born, the first of six boys.

Bill formed a partnership with his father in the mid-50s, A. Lombardo & Sons, but his dad was never much of a businessman, and soon ceded operations to him. By the next decade Bill had transformed the fledgling enterprise into Lombardo Construction, a local industry leader and builder of several local establishments, including arenas, churches, office building and recreational complexes. He was an imposing sight in the 1960s, a large, bearded man with strong arms known to like his cigars.

A successful businessman, Bill also became known for his big heart and his determination to help out others less fortunate. He gave generously to various charities and non-profit causes, as well as local churches and schools. Other times he arranged for large amounts of sand to be dropped off at track and field pits of local schools.

By the early 1970s Bill was already supporting construction of the Brentwood Recovery Home, a project spearheaded by Father Paul Charbonneau, a long-time family friend. He helped ensure that Brentwood received needed building materials and other supplies.

Bill and Jina Lombardo also started to travel more frequently during this time, and soon fell in love with Spain. The couple took the expatriate plunge in 1974, moving to southern Spain with their three youngest boys. They enjoyed adventurous and wonderful years in that foreign country, providing the opportunity for their teenaged sons to experience an entirely different culture and way of life.

While in Spain, Bill and Jina Lombardo managed an Italian restaurant – La Fragatta – as well as a couple of bars in Torremolinos; Bill led the good life. “I remember that he was semi-retired and grew his hair long,” said Nico Osborne, a painter in Spain who attended the local American high school with his sons. “When he wore that orange, terry cloth kimona, he almost looked like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead”. The Spain years lasted until the early 1980s, when the family returned to Windsor. By mid-decade Bill and Jina had set up a summer home in Palm Springs, California, and there became active church and community members.

In the 1980s Bill Lombardo pulled another rabbit out of his business hat. He took over Peerless-Cascade Plastics, a small and struggling company, and as President and CEO eventually transformed it into a premier auto parts supplier in both Ontario and Kentucky. At its zenith the company employed over 300 people in Windsor, and Bill developed a well-deserved reputation as a local pioneer in establishing cordial employee-management relations, as well as an equitable and fair workplace. “He treated all his workers as through they were family,” former employee Kelly Snider recalled. “Whenever a worker was in any kind of trouble, regardless of what it was, he was the first to extend a helping hand.”

Always a proud Canadian, during this time Lombardo also represented Canada on government-sponsored business trips to China, Germany, Japan and other countries. He extended the company’s reach far beyond Canada, setting up suppliers and buyers from Europe to the Far East.

Peerless-Cascade Plastics was sold in the mid-90s, and then Bill and Jina truly relished their retirement years, traveling around the world, from Alaska to Hawaii, as well as exotic destinations in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Above all else, Bill Lombardo was utterly devoted to his wife, to whom he was married for almost 60 years.

Bill Lombardo is survived by his wife Jina and their six sons, Bill Jr., Bob, Barry, Brett, Brad and Brion. He is deeply and forever missed by a wide circle of family and friends, which spans across Canada, the United States and Europe.

By: Brad Lombardo

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