David Lewis Stein: Writer. Teacher. Family man. Friend. Born Feb. 12, 1937, in Toronto; died Sept. 3, 2019, in Toronto, of heart failure; aged 82.
"I’ve got a great story!” That’s what he would say at the start of most conversations. For David was, above all, a writer with a cocked ear and an observant eye. People’s stories fascinated him. He was interested, compassionate and perceptive.
David Lewis Stein was a formidable municipal affairs columnist for almost two decades at The Toronto Star. In passionate defense of his city, he took on politicians, advocated reform and fought corruption. He was influential: In the 1990s he favoured Toronto’s amalgamation into the current megacity, a move that made him unpopular with many. But he believed in the larger benefits of urban diversity.
He and his wife, Alison, a high-school drama teacher, had an inspiring, if unlikely, marriage. They met at the University of Toronto in the late 1950s. She was the Protestant daughter of Toronto’s wealthy Rosedale district. He was the son of working class Jews who had operated a convenience store and lived upstairs. Their open-minded families accepted their alliance, and David and Alison found common ground while continuing to practice their respective religions. For years they held a Passover seder that included elements of the Last Supper as well as Old and New Testament readings, followed by biblical charades. Eventually, they wrote a unique Passover Haggadah, or text, incorporating their separate and mutual beliefs. They shared a love of theatre, bird watching, music, books and debating ideas with their friends, often over roast chicken.
David was a fine father. Rather than repair their television set when it broke, he elected instead to read the entirety of Charles Dickens to his young daughter, Kate. When he loved you – as he loved Alison, his daughters, Annika and Kate, his son, Ben, and his many friends – he was tenacious. Loyalty was what he admired in others: not their worldly success, but their character. It mattered to David that you would drop everything to support a friend; that you did not abandon people close to you, even if they hurt you; then, later, that you remembered the date his beloved Alison had died.
He also mentored other writers, including me. When I struggled over my first magazine article, he said, “I’ll help you.” We shared confidences and bantered together for a lifetime, and in the early 1980s we even got paid for it: We had a column in Chatelaine magazine called “A Man and a Woman” in which I played the progressive liberal and he played the curmudgeon.
David was quirky. He always wore a fedora, indoors and outdoors. Before smoking was frowned upon he enjoyed brandishing Cuban cigars in public, to everyone’s annoyance. He was so messy that cleaners regularly sent him threatening notes. But he was endearing. His off-key renditions of familiar songs elicited a lot of loving teasing.
Shortly after his death, Toronto City Council entered a Motion of Condolence into the record. “David … had a true passion for all things Toronto and made civic politics accessible and explicable to the City’s residents. … David’s life and career have left a profound impact on the city of Toronto.”
All who knew and loved him, and we are many, will miss his unique presence in the world.
Erna Paris was David Lewis Stein’s friend.
To submit a Lives Lived: email@example.com.
Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide.