“Transformational” gift to support cardiac research
“There’s a guy here writing a story about me. Maybe it will help me find another job,” Paul Albrechtsen tells a caller. “I want to quit my paper route.”
The phone banter marks the good humour of a man who has enjoyed a long and successful career – grateful, relaxed, and still serving as President of Paul’s Hauling, the trucking juggernaut he launched in 1957.
Ask his age and he’ll invoke the spirit of the late comic Jack Benny who insisted for four decades that he was only 39-years-old. Whatever his age, Albrechtsen has reached a stage in life where he is taking stock, and giving back to a province that welcomed him as an immigrant in 1954. His latest gift to St-Boniface Hospital Foundation is a $5 million endowment whose income will help support cardiac research. Add this to a previous $2 million donation, and Paul Albrechtsen is the largest donor in the history of St-Boniface Hospital.
“I can only describe Paul’s gift as transformational,” says Charles (Chuck) LaFlèche, President and CEO of St-Boniface Hospital Foundation. “We’re moved not only by his generosity, but by his enthusiasm and trust. Supporting research takes foresight and vision.”
Albrechtsen’s own story is also characterized by foresight and vision, not to mention hard work. The business story does, in fact, begin with a paper route in a small Danish town. When Denmark was occupied by the Nazis in 1940, Albrechtsen needed to help support the family. At the age of 10, he raised rabbits; at 12, he hauled peat moss; at 13, he worked on a farm; at 15, he apprenticed as a mechanic.
“When I was done with the army, I wanted to see the world,” says Albrechtsen. “I sold my inventory of bikes and made my way to North America with $50 in my pocket. That’s all I was allowed to take.”
Jobs were scarce, but he found work as a mechanic with the Mercury dealership in Virden earning 65 cents an hour. He ultimately took a job with an oil company, taking care of their equipment. On the side, he bought and repaired a used International Harvester KB-7 truck, and started hauling water, salt water, and oil in his off hours. Between his job and his sideline, Albrechtsen worked over 100 hours a week while living in a tool shed and surviving on Klik sandwiches.
“I saved my money and kept buying trucks and hiring drivers,” he says. “By 1957 I was in business as Paul’s Hauling and I had seven trucks.”
Albrechtsen diversified by buying a failing trucking company in Brandon. Paul’s Hauling steadily expanded – 1,100 trucks at its peak. Along the way, he also bought and sold a salt company and invested in resorts and other businesses. He did well, and he’s grateful.
“I’ve enjoyed a successful career,” he says. “I’m happy to give back to a community that has been so supportive and welcoming.”Since establishing the Paul Albrechtsen Foundation, he has committed about $45 million, including gifts to St-Boniface Hospital Foundation, Assiniboine Park Conservancy, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, St. Paul’s High School, and the Reh-Fit Centre where he was once rescued after a heart attack with the portable defibrillators he himself had funded.
His gifts to St-Boniface Hospital Foundation are an expression of gratitude for the ongoing care he receives. “I go to St-Boniface Hospital to have my implanted defibrillator checked every six months,” he says. “They treat me well and I’m proud to give while I can see some of the impact of the gift. I’d rather give with a warm hand than a cold one.”
“Paul Albrechtsen understands the importance of research,” says Grant Pierce, Executive Director of Research. “His gift will fund the work of young researchers and support the physical infrastructure we need to do our work.”
On September 29, Paul Albrechtsen was honoured at a special ceremony, unveiling the renamed St-Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre. For Albrechtsen, though, what happens in the building is more important than the name that goes on the building.
“I believe very strongly in medical research,” he says. “If our forefathers didn’t invest in research, we wouldn’t have what we have today. And my story might have been very different.”