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David Pecaut, of Boston Consulting Group, photographed on Bay St. in downtown Toronto, Ont. May 20/2009. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
David Pecaut, of Boston Consulting Group, photographed on Bay St. in downtown Toronto, Ont. May 20/2009. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto visionary David Pecaut succumbs to cancer Add to ...

David Pecaut, the best mayor Toronto never had, a civic entrepreneur who found his opportunity, his cause, and his legacy in Toronto, died this morning surrounded by family at his home.

Mr. Pecaut, who was 54, had been fighting colorectal cancer. He is survived by his wife Helen Burstyn, four daughters and his extended family. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Even now, amidst private grief and public outpourings, it is tempting to imagine Mr. Pecaut washing up on a desert island, even one as much in danger of sinking into the ocean as Tuvalu in the Pacific. He would dry himself off, figure out a way to convene an international summit on global warming, followed by an e-commerce task force on innovative ways to export coconuts.

And once he had tapped into the brain waves of his far-flung global partners, he would convince them to join a diversity round table and a mentorship initiative across the diverse economic and social sectors of the minute island.

Naturally, he would persuade a series of strong, capable, organized women to run these projects. Then he would blue sky an annual cultural festival that would attract tourism dollars, enhance local artistic standards, and build international audiences. And he would do all of this for free, earning nothing more than the praise of the islanders and the satisfaction of making his island a more innovative, competitive and diverse place.

Short, with a beatific smile and a magnetic pull to his wide-eyed gaze, he was an insatiable talker about lofty ideas and grandiose schemes, and a nonpareil convener of the mighty, the needy and the cutting edge. Mr. Pecaut was "so bold," said Alan Broadbent, chair of The Maytree Foundation, that he could imagine him making "a cold call to the Pope" and expecting the Pope not only to call back, but to attend a meeting at the end of the week. "That kind of boldness really served everybody well," said Mr. Broadbent. Pessimism was not an entry in Mr. Pecaut's lexicon; neither was postpone, or waiting for government to take the lead.

Convinced that Toronto could be a model for the world, he set about forging inclusive working partnerships among the social, economic and cultural sectors, and spawning "do tanks" rather than think tanks. He wanted Toronto to work for everybody - poor as well as rich, immigrants as well as descendants of United Empire Loyalists. Unlike, say, the up- from- the- sidewalk, self-organizing, approach that urban activist Jane Jacobs espoused, Mr. Pecaut brought his management consulting and entrepreneurial skills to the table. Both left the city a better place.

Bringing smart minds together was not an idea that Mr. Pecaut invented. His genius was to take that team approach, and use it to bring new and key business players to the table to work pro-bono on seemingly intractable projects - from the Toronto Alliance to rejuvenate tourism in the wake of the SARS in 2003, to the City Summit Alliance, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) which has created about 5,000 mentorship partnerships and close to 1,000 internships for qualified new arrivals, to Luminato, Toronto's wildly successful annual early summer performing arts and culture festival.

"It was fundamental to his being to create, to be positive, to be a catalyst, and then to lead, to make it happen," said his friend Anne Golden, now head of the Conference Board of Canada. "He was "indefatigable," she said, using a word that encapsulated Mr. Pecaut's energy, vision and determination. Besides his altruism, which Ms. Golden thinks was central, he was a big thinker who understood that "we are in a new global era," one in which "connectedness and innovation" are the "routes to sustainable prosperity as a city, a province and a country."

Early in 2004, in the wake of SARS, and before the door-opening celebrations of several cultural organizations, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and The Royal Ontario Museum, Mr. Pecaut met Tony Gagliano, CEO of St. Joseph's Communications, for lunch in Grano, a North Toronto eatery and cultural petri dish. The two men knew each other only by reputation, but as soon as Mr. Gagliano mentioned the idea of a one-off cultural festival in Toronto, "the sparks flew."

By the time lunch was over, they had hatched the genesis of an annual arts and creativity festival that they called Luminato. Mr. Pecaut went one way as a convener and fundraiser while Mr. Gagliano canvassed his network and supporters.

"Working with David has been one of the greatest joys of my life," according to Mr. Gagliano. "He is the smartest person I have ever met, but I have met a lot of smart people and smarts on their own, although nice, are limited in their importance. When you combine smarts with the ability to get things done, then it is look-out time. And that is what you've got with David."

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