The bad press continued when a 1994 Gazette article accused him of calling himself an architect when he wasn’t. “I never did call myself a licensed architect,” he retorted. “I never did sign plans officially.”
Three years later, he was granted a master’s degree in architecture at Carleton University at the age of 75. In 2008, the university renamed its architecture school the Azrieli School of Architecture in recognition of a $5.5-million gift from him. At least one professor publicly groused that Mr. Azrieli was unworthy of the honour, citing the Van Horne Mansion episode, while others grumbled that money had done the talking.
Mr. Azrieli was resigned to the blowback. “If you do things,” he told the Ottawa Citizen, “then you’re subject to criticism.”
His better-known Canadian projects included the largest shopping mall in the National Capital Region, Les promenades Gatineau (originally called Les promenades de l’Outaouais). He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1984 and the Ordre National du Québec in 1999.
“He combined a number of things that resulted in his success,” said Myer Bick, president of the Jewish General Hospital Foundation in Montreal, who knew Mr. Azrieli for 30 years. “He had complete, enormous confidence in himself, in his judgment. He also was a risk-taker, ready to shoot the dice, which he did many times in his career and came out smelling like roses.”
Mr. Azrieli’s namesake foundation has doled out an estimated $100-million since its founding in 1989, underwriting initiatives in education, architecture and design, scientific and medical research, and the arts. Among the projects it supported was the Institute for Educational Empowerment, a program aimed at Israeli youth at risk, and the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, established in 2005. To date, it has published 48 volumes of survivors’ recollections – 28 in English and 20 in French. An additional nine titles are scheduled for release this autumn.
“In telling these stories, the writers have liberated themselves,” Mr. Azrieli felt. “For so many years we did not speak about it, even when we became free people living in a free society. Now, when at last we are writing about what happened to us in this dark period of history, knowing that our stories will be read and live on, it is possible for us to feel truly free.”
In 2011, the foundation donated $5-million to Concordia University, in Montreal, to establish the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. “He was a formidable person, very strong-minded,” noted the institute’s associate director, Norma Joseph. “And he used his mind for a wonderful vision of community and building.”
Later in life, he divided his time between Canada and Israel. “I have two homelands,” he once said, “two places I love and where I have been blessed to do what I love best.”
Loving what one does is “genuine freedom,” he said. “If you have to spend your life doing things you don’t love to do, you are no better than a slave. This then, is my message: Do what you love to do.”
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Stephanie (née Lefcourt), children Rafael, Sharon, Naomi and Danna, and seven grandchildren. He was buried on July 14 in a cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
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