GATINEAU, Quebec — After 50 years of distinguished service in the Quebec produce industry, Nelson Lachance is an ideal candidate for this year’s Quebec Pillar of the Year award, presented at the Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s annual conference in Gatineau, Quebec.

Lachance grew up on a farm in Thetford Mines, and credits his success to three mentors: Jacques Lacas and Denis Lemay of Steinberg Quebec and Yves Laverdière of Sobeys Quebec.

“I’ve had the great good luck to have worked with great people since the first day of my career,” he told delegates. “People who believed in me and passed on their knowledge and expertise.”

While in his 20s, and “not super-knowledgeable,” he admits, Lachance became a supermarket manager at Steinberg, thanks to Lacas. Several years later, Lacas hired him as controller in Steinberg’s Northern Quebec division.

Lemay, president of Steinberg’s Aligro division, hired him to open a new perishables distribution centre in Lévis, and later appointed him general manager of Aligro.

Laverdière challenged him to steer Sobeys’ Quebec fruit and vegetable division in a new direction. Lachance hired QPMA outgoing president Robert Beauregard, incoming president Pat Calabretta and Francis Bérubé, who remains in sales at Sobeys.

“We went on enthusiastically and successfully to lead that produce division to a new level of excellence,” Lachance said.

“It was already clear to me that I was developing a new generation, not only at Sobeys but in the QPMA.”

The group gave fresh a prominent focus in the store.

Beauregard said the bold move succeeded because of his boss’s insistence on high-quality products, great customer service and good relationships between stores and suppliers.

“I learned to treat suppliers and customers with equal respect,” Lachance said, “so that by the end of our meetings or negotiations we all walked out with a ‘win-win’ result, and had the best price for the best product.”

Lachance was on the board for eight years before becoming chairman in 2002, and was involved in hiring current executive director Sophie Perreault.

He spearheaded QPMA’s longtime partnership with the Quebec Breakfast Club.

Though he officially retired five years ago, Lachance now works as a consultant, advising growers such as Les Serres Saint-Laurent, which markets Savoura greenhouse vegetables, and apple grower Jean-Yves Boileau et Fils, where he helped train their fourth generation.

When he’s not working in produce — he apologized to his wife Denise and children Manon, Chantal and Steeve for being so absorbed in work for so many years — Lachance loves his horses and runs a sugar shack during maple syrup season.

“What I’ve learned most of all in these 50 years,” he said, “is the importance of talking and listening sincerely and respectfully, and of being willing to trust others.

“I have total confidence in today’s and tomorrow’s next generation, and the future pillars of our industry.”