David Gilmour, a Canadian-born entrepreneur who, in the 1990s, built a luxury resort on Wakaya, a small island he owned in Fiji, and went on to create Fiji Natural Artesian Water, transforming a local resource into a leading bottled brand, died on June 11 in Manhattan. He turned 91.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said David Roth, a friend and business associate.
By the time he bought Wakaya from two business partners in 1987, Mr. Gilmour had built several businesses over 30 years. He imported Scandinavian home furnishings and built high-end stereos. He helped set up a hotel chain in the South Pacific, which brought him familiarity with the archipelago state of Fiji, and co-founded a gold mining company.
But there was something different about Wakaya. At the time, he was mourning the death of his only child, Erin Gilmour, who had been murdered in her Toronto apartment in 1983.
He called the island “the world’s last bastion of sanity,” his wife, Jillian (Sweeney) Gilmour, said in a telephone interview. “He thought if everything went haywire, he’d come here.
“The island itself is so beautiful,” she continued. “There’s an area called Chieftain’s Leap, with towering cliffs, where peregrine falcons make their nests.”
In 1990, Mr. Gilmour opened the Wakaya Club & Spa, a cluster of eight detached suites on a former coconut plantation. At the time, he said, he opened it up as “basically just a place where my friends, the ones I can’t place in my own house, can come and share the peace.” He added: “I don’t see it as very commercial, to be honest. It will probably only break even.”
Nevertheless, it gained popularity with celebrities including Tom Cruise, Bill and Melinda Gates (who spent part of their honeymoon there) and Keith Richards, who fell from a palm tree there in 2006 and was flown to a hospital in New Zealand with a head injury . injury.
One day in the 1990s, Mr. Gilmour saw guests in the property drinking Evian water.
“He said, ‘There’s something wrong with this picture,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?'” said Ms Gilmour. And he said, “We’re on our own island, and they’re drinking water from Lake Geneva.” I know with the rainfall in Fiji there must be a bigger source of water.’”
Mr Gilmour learned of an underground aquifer beneath the volcanic highlands of the Fiji island of Viti Levu, containing water rich in mineral silica. In 1996, his company began packaging and shipping its signature square bottles around the world.
Mr Gilmour said the purity of the water was a result of Fiji’s geographical remoteness. “There is no acid rain, no industrial pollution, no pesticides,” he told The Palm Beach Post in Florida in 1998. “It’s the purest virgin ecosystem.”
According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Fiji is now the second largest imported water brand in the United States (after San Pellegrino).
David Harrison Gilmour was born on November 5, 1931 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and grew up in Toronto. His father, Adam Gilmour, was an investment banker and his mother, Doris Godson Gilmour, was an opera singer.
Mr. Gilmour studied business management at the University of Toronto for a year. He then accepted his father’s offer of a $10 per day stipend to travel Europe, which he did for a while before returning to Canada.
“I learned what people are really like,” he told Palm Beach Illustrated in 2015. “I learned to only touch what I believe in 100 percent. And I learned how to take care of myself.”
He turned down his father’s offer to join his bank and instead moved to Montreal, selling pots and pans door-to-door for a year.
His first business was importing modern, streamlined Scandinavian housewares and furniture. He followed that in 1958 with the start-up Clairtone Sound, a collaboration with Peter Munk, a Hungarian-born electrical engineer. The company made critically acclaimed, cutting-edge hi-fi systems with buyers including Frank Sinatra and Hugh Hefner. But it foundered after branching out into televisions and disastrously shifting operations to Nova Scotia.
Amid heavy losses, Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Munk were forced out of the company in 1968 and later settled a lawsuit alleging that they had sold stock before announcing poor quarterly results in 1967.
They quickly recovered and in 1969 started Southern Pacific Properties, which gathered more than 50 hotels in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Fiji, New Caledonia, Tahiti and other islands. An ambitious development that was to be built near the pyramids in Giza, Egypt was finally rejected in 1978 by President Anwar Sadat.
Three years later, Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat, a Singaporean banker, bought Southern Pacific for a reported $130 million. But Wakaya continued to be owned separately by Mr. Gilmour and his associates, until Mr. Gilmour bought them out.
In the early eighties, Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Munk to the original partners in Barrick Gold, one of the world’s largest gold producers. Mr. Munk was the long-time chairman and CEO, and Mr. Gilmour was a board member until 2001. Mr. Munk passed away in 2018.
Mr. Gilmour described his working relationship with Mr. Munk in 2008 with The Globe and Mail of Toronto. “I’m more of the entrepreneurial type who likes challenges at startup, and Peter likes to grow a behemoth,” he said. “Once it reaches critical mass, I get a little bored sitting at an executive table.”
Fiji Water, marketed as a luxury brand, was a major commercial success. But, like other brands, it drew scorn from environmentalists, who criticized the industry for the amount of energy it consumed and the greenhouse gases released from making and shipping plastic bottles, as well as for the plastic waste they leave behind. Fiji in particular was chosen for shipping water to consumers thousands of miles away.
Mr Gilmour sold Fiji Water to Roll International in 2004, and Wakaya to Clare Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram liquor fortune, in 2016 after a Category 5 cyclone devastated the island. “We sold it for 10 cents on the dollar,” said Ms. Gilmour. In 2020, Ms. Bronfman was sentenced to prison for her role in enabling the Nxivm sex cult.
Mr. Gilmour’s wife is his only direct survivor. His marriages to Anna Wilmot, Erin’s mother, and to Diane Williams ended in divorce. He lived in Manhattan and Palm Beach.
Mr. Gilmour, who sold his Palm Beach estate for $44.9 million last year, had one last company in his portfolio at his death: Wakaya Perfection, a wellness company that sells powders and capsules from ginger and turmeric grown in volcanic soil in Fiji and Nicaragua. .
“David had a belief that organic, single-source, high-purity, high-quality ginger and turmeric would be something people wanted,” said Mr. Roth, who co-founded the company with Mr. Gilmour founded, by phone. “And Oprah chose it as one of her favorite things twice.”