There are very few individuals who are so intimately connected to this place we love – or who have taken so wholeheartedly a hand in improving its fortunes and addressing its failures.
But John Honderich – both the man, and the guiding vision behind the abiding civic institution that is the Toronto Star – was that person. Passing away this weekend at the age of 75, he departs all too soon, leaving a life rich in contribution — a legacy to which we all can aspire.
He was larger than life. A commanding physical presence and a standout in bright bow ties, he was known for taking big bets in business and bringing bold, creative ideas to all challenges.
His deep love for Toronto did not inure him to the social issues that impact so many. Instead, weaned on the Atkinson principles that animated the news gathering and storytelling of the Toronto Star since its early days, he brought his privilege and passion to a lifelong pursuit of social justice.
And we are so fortunate that he chose to share that with United Way. Over the years, he was a bedrock of savvy and support, taking on a range of roles: a hyper-engaged Board member, digging in deep on a variety of committees from finance to policy; a generous donor and advisor who stewarded us through two mergers and championed countless new initiatives from the first of our community hubs in under-served areas to Inclusive Local Employment Opportunity, an innovative model for neighbourhood change, now unfolding in the Golden Mile; a fundraiser extraordinaire unafraid of leading the charge to collapse the distance between corporate boardrooms and community. A true city builder in every sense.
We have lost his outsized local love just when we need it more than ever. But we carry him with us, that nudge at our shoulder as we continue our work, that voice in our ear, urging us to make this place everything it can be for everyone who calls it home: “Toronto is on the cusp, my friend. Onward.”