Vivienne Grace Ziner
Vivienne Grace Ziner

Murray B. Koffler — The Man, The Myth, The Canadian Jewish Icon..and The End of an Era.

“Murray B. Koffler did not just live life.
He did not just enjoy life.
He did not just throw himself into life.
He devoured life.”

I have not been able to stop thinking about Murray B. Koffler since his funeral a few days ago.

I did not know I would be so profoundly touched by his death, but since Wednesday I have been reminiscing, thinking about this incredible and unique man and realizing what an enormous influence he had on so many people — many of whom do not even know the impact he had on their lives.

Listening to his children and grandchildren- a veritable entourage of people — speaking to the overflowing crowd gathered to pay their final respects — began my own search into a past that was filled with stories, experiences, interactions with a man who absolutely defined what positive energy, infectious enthusiasm, brilliant insight and an extraordinary attitude can achieve — and the answer is: everything.

What is it that creates such greatness?

When you learn that Murray was an only child whose father died when he was 17, that he began his life as a pharmacist, running his father’s single pharmacy -and you then realize what he created- an empire called Shopper’s Drug Mart that revolutionized the Canadian business landscape forever; a large involvement with The Four Seasons Hotel chain; the Koffler Centre For the Arts; numerous hospital initiatives, funding of the University of Toronto and such worthy causes as the Israeli Philharmonic, the Israel Museum…the list goes on and on- you begin to appreciate the enormity of what he achieved..

One cannot even begin to do justice to all the things he accomplished, all the charities he endowed, all the events that he created.

But this not a eulogy- those were done with such grace and love by his family that I would never even begin to attempt to write one.

All the most salient points about Murray — as a family man, who loved his wife,“Marvellous Marvelle” for over 70 years and his five children with all his heart and soul; as a friend, who created business empires with his closest friends, friends like the Creeds, the Zuckermans, the Sharpes and countless others, people who remained his friends throughout his entire life; his charitable endeavours -that would require a whole separate article- these were all stated by those who loved and knew him the best.


I want to explore something else, something more illusive, something more ethereal, something more evasive.

Other people have done wonderful things for their communities, have built schools, funded organizations, endowed universities and hospitals- but no one has been quite like Murray B. Koffler.


What is it that set him apart?

His grandson Itamar certainly hit on a relevant point when he asked the same question;- his answer: Murray’s unbelievable, limitless curiosity.

Murray was always beyond curious, so voraciously interested in literally everything- business, arts, culture, science- that his two favourite words could have been “Why” and “How.”

But with Murray it was much more than just curiosity.

He wanted to know, to understand, to experience, to delve into- it was a heightened curiosity about everything — he would research, learn about, explore until he was satisfied that he knew, really knew about whatever it was that had grabbed his attention.

He had an incredible intelligence, a highly developed understanding of promotion and marketing that he applied to all facets of his life, a magnetic personality, a verve and dynamism and an enthusiasm that was infectious and all encompassing.

Murray B. Koffler did not just live life. He did not just enjoy life. He did not just throw himself into life.

No. He devoured life.

He was competitive, but most especially with himself, pushing harder all the time, taking on new challenges, creating new dreams and goals and seemingly never taking no for an answer in terms of his own achievements.

Everything for Murray B. Koffler was a challenge and an opportunity.

Horseback riding, fox hunting, sports, the arts — nothing was beyond his reach or interest.

His enthusiasm was contagious. When you were with Murray, everything seemed possible.

When I was in my early twenties, I was the youngest board member of The Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation- probably by a good 20 or so years.

I had the good fortune to watch Murray at his prime and at his best.

He was The Man in Charge (I don’t remember his official title at the time- if he was president or Chair). His ideas, his energy, his command of people and situations were extraordinary -– you didn’t just watch Murray in action — you experienced him.

It was like experiencing atoms agitating non stop.

I can see him in action now, excited and energetic, so dynamic and full of life.

He would explode with enthusiasm and ideas, always in motion, even if he was just sitting!

He did not tolerate stupidity or laziness well and he would get agitated if someone was lazy or uncreative. He was never rude or belligerent, but his dark eyes would flash with annoyance and you could sense how irritated he could become.

He was always so kind to me, treating me like his protégée in those meetings.

There was never a time, throughout so many years, that he didn’t acknowledge me, always kissing me hello, even in his last years when he allowed me to bend down and kiss him when was in a wheelchair, always with his wonderful ability to make me feel that I was special and, at that moment in time, the most important person in his world.

This was certainly not a situation exclusive to me- he had the talent of making whomever he was speaking to and interacting with feel that they were indeed, so very important.

There was never a time that I can remember that he wouldn’t comment positively on something that I was wearing- I remember one time when I was wearing a really unusual fur cape- and he turned around to Marvelle and commented on what a great piece it was.

He noticed and saw and experienced everything.

And then there was his Marvellous Marvelle.

What a special, gracious and lovely woman.

I remember, like it was yesterday, attending teas and luncheons, back when those were popular events for “ladies”. I would go with my mother, Rose z’’l, and often we would sit next to Marvelle and her mother. The way that Marvelle cared for and treated her mother was so heartwarming. I remember the looks that Marvelle gave her mother — they were so loving and deep, but there was also something else-an understanding that, as her mother got older and more frail, a different kind of love was emerging — a protective, bittersweet love for someone who was getting older and just needed a little more attention, a little more understanding, a little more help.

It was a look I only fully understand years later, with my own very special mother as she got older- and it is a look I have seen on Tiana Koffler Boymans’ face now in her own interaction with Marvelle.

When Tiana Koffler Boyman became the Chair of The Koffler Centre, a whole bevy of volunteers got involved with her, including me.

When we launched a series of Ballet Galas, my husband Glen and I sponsored the very first Champagne Reception through our development company, UrbanQuest.

For years and years after, Marvelle never missed an opportunity to thank me for doing so. It was a graciousness that I will never forget. She was always there, next to her beloved Murray, always a gentle and elegant support to him, but always very much her own person as well.

Murray epitomized an era, a time that was and will never be again.

In the late 1960’s and into the 1970s and 1980s , to be a Jew in Canada was to experience opportunity that were never available to us before.

There were many factors that led to this.

Twenty or so years after the Holocaust, doors were really opening for Jews for the first time.

Servicemen returning from W.W.11 were given a chance to get educated in the professions, Holocaust survivors brought their talents and stamina to Canada, a new generation did not have the restrictions that had been imposed on them before and the Jews went into the professions that had been either closed to them before or had had Jewish quotas.

Now, there were Jewish doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, accountants- and if the WASP firms weren’t going to hire them, they would- and did- create their own firms, their own law practices, their own architectural firms, their own development companies.

Furthermore, an alliance developed between the Italians and the Jews, in Canada, when the Italians were snubbed by the WASP Establishment. Great alliances were created and it was a time of promise and fulfillment for new players in the Canadian business landscape.

It was a time of great enthusiasm and excitement in Canada. As we celebrated our 100th Birthday, we became a country of hope and we stated that Canada was the country of the 21st century. It was the time of the Vietnam War, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, enormous development and change and all possibilities could be accomplished.

What a time for a man like Murray B. Koffler!

Toronto became the hub and hotspot of Canada, after the FLQ Crisis and the separatist cry of Quebec and innovative ideas and new concepts, such as “condos” and consolidated drugstores became the norm.

Toronto was becoming “international”, with cafes abounding, Yorkville booming, immigrants from Hungary and Morocco and everywhere else brought an exoticism to Toronto that had never happened before.

Israel was still the darling on the international stage and Murray was one of its most vociferous and public supporters. The Israel Museum, The Israel Philharmonic and so many other Israeli causes were supported and funded by Murray and Marvelle. And even though Murray didn’t believe in G-d per se, he still helped create a synagogue that still thrives today.

His outreach was certainly not limited just to Jews. He helped create The Canadian Council for Christians and Jews, had a relationship that started in his university days with the Scottish Highlanders that culminated with them honouring him at his funeral and was involved in many other interfaith endeavours, too many to name.

Murray’s commitment to dialogue and communication was an essential component of his personality.
Everything about Murray was about positive energy, a limitless optimism, a self-confidence that was neither arrogant nor exclusive.
Every picture of Murray that I have ever seen was of him smiling, his face tanned and glowing, radiating with a hale heartiness and boundless energy.

When I reflect on Murray B. Koffler, I see him as he was in the 1970’s and 1980’s, with Marvelle at his side, greeting everyone, his energy and enthusiasm energizing his surroundings.

It was a golden, positive, wonderful time and I remember everything glowed with a golden yellow, a feeling of happy excitement, of endless opportunity and the idea that the world could be whatever you chose it to be.

I remember being at Joker’s Hill, the Koffler’s farm, on many occasions, at events for the Weitzmann Institute and many other Koffler sponsored organizations and for parties, parties that were so glorious and beautiful that they live on forever in memory.

At that time, I was “friend/dating” Leon Koffler, the eldest Koffler son.

You know how you can see yourself through memory, through the haze of the past, with an understanding that can only come with time?

There is a moment of time that is seared in my mind. Leon and I were standing outside the farmhouse at Joker’s Hill, in the courtyard. I remember him being lithe in tight jeans with longish hair and a motorcycle in the background. My hair was longer than my waist, I was tanned and thin(!) and we were both so young, so full of promise, so beautiful with youth and good genes and possibility being our reality.

I see it all, with Murray laughing and carrying on with his full Cheshire cat grin, his perennial tan, his booming voice, his magnetic spirit, walking out of his beautiful farm house into the front area, his spirits boundless, his enthusiasm infectious, his possibilities limitless.

Everything about that time and place was about endless opportunity, that ability to achieve anything and everything, if you only reached for the stars and took the chance.

And no one epitomized that more than Murray B. Koffler.

It’s not that Murray won at everything. There were setbacks- the spa that was ahead of its time, his nightclub at The Inn On the Park that didn’t last long- but for Murray it was always the journey, the quest, the attempt that mattered, more than the result.

A time of promise, a time of generosity, a time of excitement — a time of and for a Murray B. Koffler to shine and excel and lead and thrive.

We are so grateful for all that you gave us. While you were not a humble man, you were a man of humility, such a special and unique and endearing person.

Your shiva was so…Murray. It was elegant and jammed packed and vibrant and dynamic, loaded with people from varied backgrounds, cultures, financial levels, with your grandchildren everywhere, food being served with great elan and panache- after all, you had dined with royalty and that tradition of excellence lives on in your family.

You would have loved your shiva, Murray…and knowing you, you already had a glass of champagne in your hand, sparking enthusiasm and positivity in heaven and you are smiling down, even while I write this.

Good bye, Murray B. Koffler — thank you for the memories and may you rest in peace.

You sure deserve it.

With my love and thanks — on behalf of so many.


About the Author
Vivienne Grace Ziner is a vociferous and outspoken activist, advocate, writer and speaker for international human rights, the global advancement of human dignity and the cause of Israel and the Jewish people.
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