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Mary Alice Stuart was a Toronto volunteer affliated with CJRT-FM.
Mary Alice Stuart was a Toronto volunteer affliated with CJRT-FM.

Mary Alice Stuart 83 Fundraiser

'She didn't break the glass ceiling, she shattered it' Add to ...

Instead of the workaday corporate world, she became super Mom - she learned music notation so she could help her daughter learn to play the piano - and a big-time volunteer, while he "boomed around the world." The breakthrough of being on one board led to other invitations, especially in the 1980s when second-wave feminism was infiltrating corporate enclaves. Several of Stuart's male forebears had been president of The Canadian Club of Toronto, but until lawyer and travel guru George Butterfield became president in 1982 and revised the bylaws, membership was officially limited to male British subjects over the age of 18. She broke through two barriers, becoming a director and the first woman elected president of the club.

The U of T came calling in the late 1980s when George Connell was president of the university. He had wanted TD's Thomson and his brother Tom, an executive with Imperial Oil, to co-chair its hundred-million-dollar Breakthrough fundraising campaign, the largest in the country. Unwilling to take it on, Thomson recommended Stuart. "A woman was not exactly what they had in mind," he admitted, but Connell approached her, even though she didn't fit the typical profile - CEO of a large corporation - because of her reputation for surpassing expectations.

Before she agreed, she insisted on two things: She wanted a car and driver to chauffeur her to her calls around town, and she wanted the right to smoke when and wherever she pleased. "I need a cigarette to do my best work," she said, according to the eulogy her eldest son, Alexander Stuart, delivered at her funeral on Wednesday. She guaranteed the U of T that if they complied with her conditions, she would raise $20-million over the $100-million campaign goal.

She did that and more, bringing in $127-million, more than five times the amount raised in the prior campaign in the 1970s, according to Rob Prichard, who was incoming president of U of T in July 1990, and the "beneficiary" of her "extraordinary tenacity, absolute dedication to the University and vast network of relationships." He said she was "an exemplary campaign chair" who raised the standard for university fundraising campaigns across the country.

When Sonja Bata was first thinking about creating a shoe foundation in the late 1970s, she turned to Stuart for advice and help because "she was probably one of the persons I have respected most in my life. Whenever she started a project she was determined to see it through," Bata said, admitting that even she had thought Stuart was "utterly crazy" to think she could raise more than a hundred-million-dollars for the U of T. More than anything else, Bata trusted Stuart. "She was the type of person, no matter the time of day, you could call" and talk to in "a terribly frank way about good things and bad and get very honest advice" even if it wasn't always what Bata, an admitted dreamer, wanted to hear. Not only did Stuart help her friend, she went on the board of her foundation.

Her interests were as varied as her drive and her curiosity. These were constants until she suffered a bad fall abut six years ago, probably as a consequence of a series of tiny vascular strokes. Her recent memory and her ability to speak became impaired and eventually she needed full-time care in a nursing home. In mid-May, she contracted pneumonia exacerbated by congestive heart failure and was moved to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she died surrounded by her family.

Stuart leaves her husband, four children and nine grandchildren.

Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this obituary and an earlier online version incorrectly stated the number of her children and grandchildren. This online version has been corrected.

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