Dr. Donald Rix will be remembered today as a giant in British Columbia's life sciences field and a major force who helped to establish the core of businesses at the Vancouver Island Technology Park in Saanich.

Rix, a physician, entrepreneur and philanthropist, founded LifeLabs (formerly MDS Laboratory Services) and gave his time, money and expertise to new and existing companies to open new markets.

Rix died of cancer on Nov. 6 at age 78. A public celebration of his life is being held this afternoon from 4 to 6 at the Hotel Vancouver.

In Victoria, Rix is remembered as the force behind the life sciences cluster at the Vancouver Island Tech Park, a group of technology-related businesses that last year injected $318 million dollars into the local economy.

Dale Gann, president of the University of Victoria-owned technology park, praised Rix for his foresight.

"The concept of VITP's life science cluster was hatched in the back of a bus in 2002," Gann said.

Rix, along with Gann and Premier Gordon Campbell, were on a bus headed to the Palo Alto venture capital area as a part trade mission in California. "Don presented the concept and got the premier's approval and when back home he followed up immediately," said Gann.

"To me, Don was a friend, a mentor, a scientist, an entrepreneur and always a friend of our community. We should never lose sight of Dr. Rix's hand that has guided us by the spirit of collaboration and the message of what we can do together."

"His accomplishments have enabled so many people to have good quality jobs, which affect so many lives within Victoria and Canada," Gann said.

In 2003, as chairman of MDS Laboratory Services, Rix engineered the move of his lab to a $2-million facility employing hundreds of lab technicians and scientists to the Vancouver Island Technology Park. In an agreement with Genome British Columbia and the University of Victoria, Rix helped to establish the UVic Genome B.C. Proteomics Centre. The payoff of the collaboration spun off to other park tenants such as GenoLogics Life Sciences, which developed sophisticated software for the global medical research industry.

Rix either invested in or helped to launch other park life sciences businesses, including Aspreva Pharmaceuticals and Cantest Laboratories.

The tech park is now home to 34 companies with 1,400 employees.

Gann said Rix was extremely proud of his association with universities and associations. Over the years he received honorary doctorates from the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and University of B.C.

He was also a recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of B.C.

Rix believed that technology and innovation were the foundations to build the future of B.C.

In a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Rix explained that technological innovation transcends all boundaries. "Not only does it create new industry sectors and new jobs which, in turn, boost economic output, it also provides traditional industries with advances that allow them to be more productive and competitive. Most importantly, technology improves every aspect of life by coming up with new ways to address important social issues," Rix said at the time, offering Vancouver Island Technology Park as an example.