A high school dropout growing up during the Great Depression, Bob Proctor became a New York Times bestselling author, a world-renowned success coach, and a self-help savant.
Through half a century of teachings, which reference the pseudoscientific concept of the Law of Attraction, which suggests that positive thinking can shape reality, Bob changed millions of lives, says his brother, Al Proctor. “Bob taught people who they are, why they behave the way they do, and how to change that conditioning,” he says. “And as good a teacher as he was, he was an even better man.”
Attorney he often talked about building wealth, but his son says it was never about money. “Bob saw importance in achievement wealth, not financial wealth,” says Ray Proctor. “Money was simply the easiest yardstick to measure achievement. He never showed any desire to hold on to financial wealth. After his needs were met, he shared his wealth or spent it to further his goal of sharing his teachings throughout the world.”
This, he did with ease. “Bob had a knack for being able to take complicated concepts, break them down, and explain them in a way that everyone could understand,” says Gina Hayden, his personal assistant for 35 years.
The middle son of Norman Proctor, a boiler engineer, and his wife Marguerite, Robert Corlett Proctor was born in Owen Sound, Ontario. In 1944, Marguerite moved with Bob and his siblings, Helen and Al, to Toronto, where she bought a house on Silver Birch Avenue on the beach and began working in a munitions plant.
It was the Great Depression and money was tight. “Bob would tell stories of our mom putting cardboard in our shoes to make them last through the holes in the soles,” says Al. When Bob was 12, he told his mom that one of the families down the street couldn’t buy coal to heat your house. With barely enough money to make ends meet, she placed $10, half of his weekly salary, in Bob’s hand and told him to give it to the family. That act of generosity impacted Bob so deeply, Al says, that it became one of his trademarks.
Growing up, Bob had a bad image of himself, says Al. “He hung out with the wrong crowd, the older guys. He would be home late. He didn’t like school and he never did homework”. After graduating from Balmy Beach Public School, Bob attended Danforth Tech in 1948 with plans to pursue a trade, but he dropped out in 9th grade after being injured on a band saw.
Still, Bob was curious, ambitious, and had a tremendous work ethic. “He would hang out at the grocery store at the top of Silver Birch Avenue and help customers with their purchases and they would tip him,” says Bob’s sister, Helen Brindley. He also delivered newspapers, shoveled snow, mowed lawns, and painted houses.
It was after Bob started working as a firefighter at age 24 that a family friend, Ray Stanford, introduced him to Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich.” “The book suggested that if you could find the secret in the book, you could have anything you wanted,” says Bob’s son, Brian Proctor. “That intrigued Bob.”
Determined to do “anything moral to make money, Bob thought, ‘Let’s clean the floors, I’ll clean them,’” says Brian. Bob founded his one-man commercial cleaning company, Janitorial Development, in 1961.
He found success, a little too much. “He was so busy doing it alone that he passed out on the street,” says Al. “When he woke up, he was surrounded by ambulance attendants and police. He determined right then and there that if he couldn’t clean all the offices, he wouldn’t clean any of them.” Applying concepts from Hill’s book, Bob went into management and hired cleaners, motivating them by showing them how they could get what they wanted. “While employed by Bob, the workers were getting what was really Bob’s early days in teaching what he had been learning,” says Al. “He was teaching them who they were and what they were capable of.”
In the years that followed, his company expanded to include offices in Canada, the US and the UK. He eventually sold it in the mid-1960s to move to Chicago and work as vice president of sales alongside Earl Nightingale, radio host of “Our Changing World” and author of the motivational book “The Strangest Secret.”
Believing that people can think of any outcome they desire, thus moving beyond perceived limitations, Bob taught that a positive self-image was critical to success and that through personal development, people could achieve other goals in life. Bob was “a product of the product,” says his wife Linda Proctor, “he was teaching principles that had changed his own life, drastically.”
He also proved to be an engaging speaker. “Whether he was talking to you one-on-one or to a room full of 1,000 people, he was talking about you,” says his son Ray.
Two events helped Bob reach an even larger audience. In 2006, his work was highlighted in the documentary “The Secret,” in which writer Rhonda Byrne interviewed authors and philosophers about his methods for living a happy and successful life. She also appeared in Byrne’s book of the same title, which has sold 30 million copies. In 2013, Bob and Seattle attorney Sandy Gallagher launched the Proctor Gallagher Institute, which offers personal development programs.
For 60 years, Bob, who wrote books such as “You were born rich” (1984), “The art of living” (2015), “The ABC of success” (2018) and “Change your paradigm, change your results” (2021) – took his teachings all over the world. Through it all, he remained “a normal guy,” says Al. “He liked to watch basketball, football and golf.”
Work took him on the road 150 days a year, but he loved spending time with Linda, whom he married in Toronto in 1983; and his children by his first wife, Dorothy: Brian (born 1961), Colleen (1964), and Raymond (1966). The grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of five brought the whole family together at his home in Thornhill, where he and Linda had lived since 1984. The grandchildren, Linda says, would often come and sit in the “summer office,” which Bob called the table by the outdoor pool – for a chat.
Not even the pandemic could stop him. He was in the midst of speaking engagements when COVID hit, including one for an audience of 7,000 in London, England. “He was working/teaching two weeks before he passed away,” says Hayden, his assistant. “He didn’t like the idea of retiring. The word withdraw means to withdraw from, that just wasn’t in his personality.”
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