Charles Canning Jr., who with his brother, Jack, helped to make Pine State Trading a nationally recognized leader in distribution of farm-to-table foods, beverages and vending products, has died.

Family members announced that Canning, 83, died Tuesday at his home in Jupiter, Florida, with loved ones by his side.

“My dad was always an inspiration for all of his children and grandchildren,” Gena Canning said in a statement released by the company. “We continue to strive to live his values every day and pledge to never settle for ‘good enough.’ He valued excellence in all things, and we are proud to carry on his legacy.”

Nick Alberding, Pine State’s current chief executive officer, said in a note to employees announcing Canning’s death that his uncle Charlie was iconic.

“Charlie will be remembered by family, friends, and former employees as fiercely competitive, extremely loyal, quick-witted and smart, with an uncanny knack and instinct to always do the right thing,” Alberding wrote. “The dedication and loyalty of Pine State’s employees throughout Charlie’s career is a significant part of his legacy. Charlie was at all times respectful and kind, in all circumstances. People always admired that about him.”

“He taught me to be humble and respectful,” Alberding said Thursday, adding that Canning was a mentor and a father figure to him.

Pine State Trading has been a family-owned business for three generations.

Charles Canning Sr. started Pine State Tobacco in 1941. Just about two decades later, his sons, Charlie and Jack, joined the company as president and vice president, respectively. Charlie eventually would serve as CEO.

Throughout Pine State’s history, the enterprise grew through acquisitions across the region, transforming it from a local distributor of convenience store products and beverages to one of the state’s largest employers and a company with a national reputation.

Peter Prescott, chief executive officer of E.J. Prescott in Gardiner, credited Canning with Pine State’s expansion.

“It was a brand new idea and it worked well, and the family followed through,” Prescott said. “He did a great job growing the business. It just kept growing and growing.”

Like E.J. Prescott, Pine State was an early occupant of Gardiner’s Libby Hill Business Park as it expanded beyond its Augusta facilities. Its Gardiner location is directly across from E.J. Prescott’s home office.

“There wouldn’t be a business park without them,” Prescott said.

The company passed into the hands of the third generation in 2007.

In 2012, Pine State Trading was named the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year, seven years after Canning was honored with the chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

By 2016, the company was organized in five divisions: Pine State Beverage, Pine State Spirits, Pine State Vending, Town & Country Foods and Pine State Convenience, its largest. In April of that year, company officials announced the sale of Pine State Convenience to Core-Mark Holding Co., Inc.

Charlie Canning’s work and influence extended beyond his company and his family.

He was president of the Augusta Board of Trade during the 1980s and was a significant contributor to the MaineGeneral Medical Center project, where the cafe carries the Canning family name. Charlie and Jack Canning set up the Charles Canning Sr. Scholarship Fund for the children of Pine State employees, and they funded an endowment at the Mitchell Institute to provide an annual scholarship for an Augusta-area student demonstrating an enthusiasm for community service.

He supported a wide range of fundraising efforts, including St. Mary’s School in Augusta — now called St. Michael — and the YMCA.

“Charlie was a great guy,” Prescott said. “We traveled a lot with youth hockey in the 1980s. He supported the kids.”

At the time of the sale to Core-Mark, Charlie Canning’s son Keith was named president of Pine State Convenience, a Division of Core-Mark.

“My dad was visionary, always looking for innovative solutions to market and distribute products,” Keith Canning said in a statement released by the company. “He was very intentional in every decision. He was always being mindful of never taking on too much debt or risking the future of the company and its employees. It was an honor to join the company in the ’90s and to be part of its growth and success all of these years.”

Charles Canning Jr. was born in Portland in 1935 to Irish immigrants Charles Canning Sr. and Alice Mullen Canning, and grew up in Augusta. After he graduated from Providence College, he served as a supply officer in the U.S. Navy in the Seventh Fleet, which covered Asia and the Western Pacific.

Canning married Geraldine McDonough in 1956, and they settled in Augusta, where they raised six children — Marybeth, Charles, Alice, Gena, Keith and Kevin.

A funeral Mass has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mary’s Church in Augusta.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.