11 MAR 2015:  The industry has been shocked and saddened by the untimely death yesterday of Daryl McWilliams, vice president at Sunwing, current CATO chairman, and  vice chair of the TICO Board of Directors.  He had also previously been chair of TICO’s Business Strategy Committee and served on various other TICO committees.  

“His contributions were invaluable,” said Dorian Werda, vice president of operations for TICO, “he was always enthusiastic about his work here at TICO – and of course he had a wonderful sense of humour. He was highly regarded and respected and he will be greatly missed.”

A well-known and popular figure in the industry, I have known Daryl since his Skylark days, both socially and as a colleague, and I think it best to remember him, or for those who never met him, to get an appreciation for this industry pioneer, through the memories and words of the two people who knew, loved and understood him over the years.

Vanessa Lee was, for many years, his partner both personally and professionally and though devastated by the news yesterday, she has generously given us an intimate view of their time together – a relationship as tempestuous as it was passionate.   David Sparkes his friend, colleague and business partner of many years has also shared his memories and I am grateful to them both.

David Sparkes writes:

Daryl McWilliams was a character. Often flamboyant, sometimes larger than life, always sincere and a good friend to so many.  He will be missed by his colleagues, friends and associates in the travel industry which he served for close to fifty years. Daryl worked with a variety of companies; notably Suntours, Sunflight, Skylark, Paramount, Encore and in the last several years Sunwing.

I met Daryl back in the sixties when he was a tour escort for Suntours  travelling with groups around Canada and then as he took a head office position in the Don Mills headquarters.

Our friendship continued when Daryl joined me at Skylark in 1973 and then in 1980 we became business partners to form Paramount Holidays. Good friends with very different personalities – and that is what made us successful business partners. Nine years later Paramount was sold to Sunquest Vacations and Daryl went on to form Encore Cruises with Vanessa Lee who was his wife at the time.

Back in the sixties at the Sunflight office on Don Mills Road there was another well known travel industry veteran just making his way into a travel career. That man  was Colin Hunter  who went on to become chairman of the Sunwing Group of companies; which is where Daryl ended his career, as vice president of the company formed by his friend of many years.  It sort of completes the circle.

Daryl was always ready for a joke and for a good time. He lived life to the full and made many friends along the way. We all have our own memories but I will remember him with love and affection, for all the times we shared together, and for his zest for life.

And Vanessa Lee writes:

I met Daryl McWilliams in late 1980 when I applied for a job with the newly formed tour operator Paramount Holidays.  I went in for an interview with Daryl and David Sparkes his partner and was finally offered the role of marketing manager. I joined the company on July 14, 1981 and my life changed forever.

Daryl was an intriguing, charismatic, difficult and very smart man and he decided that he was going to fall in love with me – which he did. That caused a whole bunch of aggravation for a few years, but things eventually sorted themselves out and we started on our often amazing, but turbulent life together.

We worked together at Paramount for more than nine years and then co-founded Encore Cruises under the auspices of the ITH Group and Colin Hunter and Paul Jervis in the spring of 1991. Daryl left Encore in late 1996 and moved on to other things but we did retain a friendship and a fondness for each other.

We had our ups and downs but life was never boring around Daryl. In fact I recall one day thinking that I couldn’t be any happier than being with him – he was electrifying to me.  There was just so much promise.

He was actually quite shy in many ways but most people didn’t realise that, as he was also a “hail fellow well met” kind of man and hid his insecurities under an exterior which offered up a big smile and a cheeky disposition at times.  He was also quite a dandy and I have lovely memories of him in a Borsalino hat and Ferragamo shoes after one of our Italy trips.

However, he also had his demons and sadly and eventually they came between us.

Daryl, along with David Sparkes (and the late and much loved Marilyn Barker Paulson) taught me about the travel and cruise business, and about negotiating at which Daryl was something of an expert, dating back to when he was a buyer at Sunflight and Skylark.  

I have so many valued personal memories from our 17 years together for most of which we were a couple. He was a passionate and unbridled man who adored his kids and his family and who proposed to me a number of times before I finally accepted in December 1990. We were married in May 1992.

I recall all the marvellous trips we took   – many of them with the children – each Spring to Nassau and a slew of cruises; those with David and Sandi Sparkes in Europe and England and naturally on cruises, some too with Marilyn Barker and her husband Doug Paulson (we went on parts of their honeymoon with both couples) and also with Michael Friisdahl and his then wife Lauren now Lauren Crerar Linton.

Yacht cruises in the Virgins and the Grenadines, a safari in Africa, trips to the UK, Spain, Ireland and Italy and so many more.

We attended Royal Ascot in the mid 80’s and were in the Royal Enclosure with Daryl’s great pal Bill Saunders from Nassau (who tragically also died just last week) and here he was - a man who had been born in Northern Ireland, one of three brothers, who grew up in blue collar Hamilton, studied religion at McMaster University and found himself in the travel biz, wearing top hat and tails, bowing to the Queen and drinking champagne while he ate plovers’ eggs. Living life large as he always did.

The loss of Daryl has affected me perhaps more than I thought it would, but it has also brought back wonderful thoughts and times and memories of all the things we accomplished together.

All the dark and difficult times from which we emerged, the fantastic parties, the Saturday lunches at Noodles, the hard work, the quiet moments with his three children and our family pets.

Moments to be forever cherished. God Bless you Daryl and may you find peace at last.

Daryl McWilliams
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