BC Swimming Hall of Fame Member Tor Bengtson Passes Away

Torsten was born in Jőnkőping, Sweden in 1929 to Lisa and Alfons Bengtson. His sister Gudrun, who still lives in Sweden, is four years his junior.

In his youth, Tor was heavily involved in sports of all kinds, being awarded “Athlete of the Year” in his final year of school. He particularly loved swimming, a passion which had a recurring presence throughout his life. He graduated high school in 1948, then spent a year in the Swedish military studying special intelligence and photography. From 1950 - 1951, he attended the Commercial Institute in Gőteborg receiving a scholarship to study abroad in the field of commerce.

In 1951, Tor boarded a ship bound for Canada and sailed through the Panama Canal with two of his best friends. He made it as far as the west coast of the United States before having to hitch a ride by car the rest of the way. He arrived in Vancouver to begin his scholarship at UBC and swim for the Thunderbirds. From the time Tor landed in Vancouver, he was an ambassador for his adopted homeland.

During those early years, he worked as a lifeguard at English Bay and for A.D. Richardson as a food broker. He soon met Sussie, a beautiful, talented, fun-loving girl, who stole his heart. They were happily married just before Christmas 1955 and remained so for 56 years.

For the first 12 years of their marriage, Tor and Sue moved throughout Eastern Canada and the US. It was a busy time in their lives as Tor worked for corporations such as Procter and Gamble, Canadian Breweries and Mead Johnson. It was also a busy time on the family front with four children born, each two years apart, each in a different city.

In 1967 when Tor was appointed Western Regional Manager for Drake Personnel, the Bengtson family moved back to Vancouver. When he was up for another transfer two years later, Tor declined the promotion so he could stay in the city he loved.

Tor subsequently launched his first business, Mod International Ltd., a mail order company specializing in aquatic supplies. What began in the family home, became a retail operation that moved to various locations in Greater Vancouver.

By 1972, Tor and his business partner incorporated International Servisport, an aquatic supply manufacturing company specializing in swimming goggles. The company’s product development literally changed the face of swimming. Servisport’s goggles were distributed worldwide through Speedo, with annual sales reaching over $6 million. In 1986, after fifteen years of hard work and being President of his own company, the unexpected happened: a hostile takeover.Despite the setback, Tor, being the entrepreneur that he was, looked inward for inspiration and turned his early training and passion for photography into his profession. He loved to say “opportunity is where you find it”.

From that point onwards, Tor was rarely seen without his camera in his hand. He photographed special events ranging from conventions to weddings to family gatherings. He documented the 2010 Winter Olympics with ten years of photos - through the bid process all the way to the Games themselves. He donated time and photographic services to friends, charitable events and strangers, leaving a legacy of beautiful images for all to enjoy.

Over the years, Tor was active in a number of networking groups such as Toastmasters International, Sales and Marketing Executives Association (SME) and Vancouver Executives (VanEx), where he met many of his very good friends.

Tor dedicated much of his life to the development and promotion of sport.

His interest in competitive swimming was rekindled when his children were born and as each learned to swim. His influence spanned three generations, with the Bengtson family still heavily involved in the sport at all levels. He originated “Swim-a-thon” in 1968, which is still used over fifty years later to raise millions of dollars for swimming in Canada. This idea spawned a host of other “a-thon” type fundraisers across Canada and around the world. Tor was a director of Swimming Canada, a Board member of the Aquatic Hall of Fame and an honorary life member of the Canadian Dolphin Swim Club. For many years, he was well known as the “Voice of Canadian Swimming”, announcing at meets and commentating for both television and radio. For his dedication to the sport, he was inducted into the BC Swimming Hall of Fame in 2004.

With wife Sue’s love of tennis and his son’s involvement in the sport, Tor also became heavily involved. He was an ever-present supporter courtside during his son’s playing career, which culminated in a scholarship at the University of Southern California. Tor was the originator and Chairman of the Tennis BC / Nike Grand Prix Circuit from 1978 - 1983 and a Director with Tennis Canada. One of his major life accomplishments was as Chairman of the organizing committee of the highly successful 1987 Federation Cup Women’s World Team Tennis Championships. Held at Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver, Fed Cup remains the most prestigious tennis event ever to be hosted in BC.

Tor was actively involved in his community. Whether it was in his role as President of his strata or as a citizen liaising with government agencies to improve safety and traffic flow, Tor left a positive mark on his neighborhood.

Nothing was more important to Tor than his family and friends. He was a wonderful husband and a proud father. He was a loyal friend whose kindness and generosity brought people together and was felt by all who knew him. He traveled the globe – on business and to visit family and friends. He communicated regularly with his friends around the world, rarely forgetting a birthday or special event. His enthusiasm for life was infectious.

Tor leaves behind his beloved wife Sue, daughters Debora, Lynn (Jim Fowlie) and Kim (Jim Boyd), son Ric (Carrie) and grandchildren Carrie, John, Jim (Amy), Katie, Kendal, Evan, Elise and Nolan, along with his family in Sweden, sister Gudrun, her three sons and their families.

One of Tor’s greatest assets was his ability to make people feel good. As an eternal optimist, he shared his philosophy “keep living your dream” with all he met. It was his greatest wish that that he could in some small way make the lives of those he met a little bit better.

On 06 June 2011, Torsten Bengtson passed away peacefully in West Vancouver, British Columbia.