The staff of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the wider startup community were saddened by the passing last week of John Kavanagh, who had been a mainstay of ACOA’s Halifax office for decades.

Kavanagh died peacefully from lung cancer on Oct. 22, surrounded by his family. As well as his broader family, he is survived by his wife of 35 years Anne and their four sons, Rhys, Elliot, Byron, and Owen.

“John was the heart and soul of our organization,” said Chuck Maillet, the Vice-President of ACOA in Halifax. “He was the moral compass and I think his greatest strength was that he was such a great mentor over the years. … He was so good at relationships with people, both external and internal to ACOA.”

Born in Deep River, Ontario, Kavanagh moved with his family to Sydney early in life and graduated from St. Francis Xavier University, completing a double honors degree in political science and philosophy.

His lengthy career at ACOA included playing a key role in the development of the Centre for Women in Business, the Black Business Initiative Society, Atlantic University Business Development Centres, and a number of other economic initiatives in the region. His most recent position was Manager of Advanced Manufacturing at ACOA in Halifax.

Maillet said Kavanagh was a person who other people would often turn to for advice, which he always gave willingly.

“He was the rock that we all leaned on for insight, and he was just a wonderful human being,” said Maillet. “He was responsible for laying the foundational blocks that really allowed the entrepreneurial community to grow in Atlantic Canada.”