Thursday, July 12, 2007

Today, his name is Mr. Mirvish

I’ve just read the news that “Honest Ed”, Ed Mirvish, has passed away. I hardly know what to say. Something is gone from the heart of Toronto. It’s as though the Empire State Building could speak, and then one day was suddenly gone. If you’d asked me yesterday to name the one person who “was” Toronto, I would have told you without a moment’s hesitation it was “Honest Ed”. Today I wouldn’t know what to tell you.

Of course I knew this day would come, one day. He was 92. But that day having come, I can tell you that, on a personal level, the last time I felt a presence like this pass from the scene was when Pierre Elliot Trudeau died.

Ed Mirvish was a wholly remarkable man. Born in Virginia, he spent his early childhood in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., where as a boy he sold newspapers on the street corners. His family came to Toronto when he was 9, and what a favour they did us, though they could not have known it at the time. His father passed away when Ed was 15, so he dropped out and went to work. In a few years, he opened his own discount store, which became the foundation of an empire of business, theatre, and breathtaking philanthropy. An entire neighbourhood, anchored around his iconic emporium, was named for him during his lifetime: Mirvish Village. The street signs there have for years attested to it.

“Honest Ed” created the Theatre District of Toronto, making us the second most important centre for theatre in North America and the third most important in the English-speaking world. In 1963, he saved The Royal Alexandria Theatre in Toronto; he rebuilt it and gave the city a gem. He went on to build The Princess of Wales Theatre here, and saved the Old Vic in London, England, at a cost of millions to himself over the years, for which, in part, he was made a Commander of the British Empire by the Queen. This was only one of his many accolades. “Honest Ed” was also an Officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the Order of Ontario, a Freeman of the City of London (England), was inducted into the Canadian and American Business Halls of Fame, and held honourary degrees from six Canadian and Israeli universities.

But his real philanthropy was on the street. His streets; the streets of Mirvish Village. The streets of Toronto. Every December for years he distributed free turkeys to anyone who came; they lined up for hours. Every year for the past 20 years he threw himself a birthday party where he gave out the presents to the people who came to celebrate. The charities he supported, both official and of the moment, is a list known only to God. A man who, no matter how rich, celebrated, and successful he became, never forgot his beginnings, and made a real difference in the lives of thousands upon thousands of people.

The one bright spot I can see in all this is we knew what we had in him. We didn’t take him for granted; we understood we were being lent something very special that we could not have forever. And we appreciated it, and him. Toronto is poorer in a number of ways today, but forever enriched by his presence here. He is survived by his wife, Anne, and his son, David.

We knew him as “Honest Ed”. But today, his name is Mr. Mirvish.

1 comment:

Polt said...

oh how horrible. I LOVE Honest Eds! We first saw Rent in one of his theaters! i've seen the Lion King, Mamma Mia and Hairspray there!

Wow..this is a shame. I shall say a prayer for Mr. Mirvish, his family, and Toronto herself.