Heritage Toronto: Special Achievement Award – Paul Oberman

The Heritage Toronto Special Achievement Award is not presented every year.  It is reserved for honouring individuals who have made a significant contribution to our city and to the goals of Heritage Toronto.  We are privileged this evening to present it in honour of Paul Oberman, who was lost to our community in a tragic accident last spring.

Paul would normally have been on the stage tonight, addressing you and helping in the presentation of the awards.  He has been on this stage many times because his company – Woodcliffe Landmark Properties – has, for many years, been our leading sponsor.  Paul not only knew and embraced the work that Heritage Toronto was doing, he also understood clearly that our organization could not carry on without support from our corporate sponsors.  When we needed him, Paul never said no – and we never had to ask him twice.

If Heritage Toronto had set out to define the attributes of an ideal supporter, we could readily make a list, but we would be hugely ambitious to think that any one person could fill even some of the attributes.  We would look for a person:

  • who would publicly speak to, and write about, the principles of why heritage preservation matters;
  • who carried through in their actions and business interests in keeping with these preservation principles;
  • who set an example as a developer with the purchase, restoration, redevelopment and ongoing operations of significant heritage properties – buildings which have been successfully adapted and become iconic landmarks, and which in turn help to revitalize their neighbourhoods;
  • who insisted that this work set standards for design excellence and act as an exemplary models for architectural and urban design;
  • who would not hesitate to provide financial support and sponsorship when asked, not only to heritage organizations, but to many other academic and community interests;
  • who would do all this in a dedicated and modest way, not a single time, but on an ongoing basis, in fact over the course of a career.

An organization would be naïve to imagine that an individual could meet all of these attributes.  It would seem almost easier to invent this person than to readily find them and depend on their agreement and support.  That list describes Paul, but it is incomplete.  To his family, friends and as a citizen, Paul was much more.

Many of you knew Paul Oberman, or you knew of the work he has done.  Please look to the screen to see a special tribute.

A special thanks to Isaac Cravit, the film maker who put that together and to Bruce Kuwabara who wrote the tribute for the Program.  Thanks also to the Honourable David Crombie, who has coined the description of one of Paul’s best known projects as ‘the Taj Mahal of booze.’

Those who appeared in the video spoke eloquently of Paul Oberman as a man, of his passion, his imagination, his obsession with quality and, as Richard Sommers said, his understanding that the built form of cities are an embodiment of our values.  He was a city builder, in the fullest sense of the word.

We will miss his leadership, his support and his vision.  Of course Paul did not do all of this on his own.  He was assisted by financial partners, planners, architects, consultants, lawyers and the staff of Woodcliffe – many of whom are here tonight.  It is a well known phenomenon, that behind many successful men is an equally dedicated and capable woman.  So it will probably come as no surprise, to many people in the audience tonight, that the work Paul did was most ably supported by the person who shared office space and worked together with him for almost 20 years.  I am referring to his wife – Eve Lewis.  We are all fortunate that Eve Lewis has stepped in as President and CEO of Woodcliffe, and that she and her colleagues in that organization are proceeding with the work on their current projects, on managing the existing properties and on carrying forth with the vision that Paul worked so hard to establish.

The accident last March took Paul away from his family and friends, but also denied Paul the opportunity to continue his work and realize new visions.  We are blessed that those projects he completed are with us, and that we can benefit from enjoying them for many years to come.  That is his real legacy.

Please join with me in welcoming Eve Lewis to the stage, to accept, on behalf of all of us, this award in honour of Paul Oberman.

 

Speech by Peter Ortved

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