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Mark Benjamin Goldblatt

Co-op movement leader, mentor, optimist. Born on April 5, 1952, in Ottawa; died on Feb. 3, 2015, in Ottawa, of a heart attack, aged 62.

Mark Goldblatt was born into a Jewish family, the middle child between sisters Lynn and Ann. Their mother, Sylvia, was a social worker; their father, Murray, was a senior editor for The Globe and Mail and the family moved between Ottawa and Toronto as his job required.

After high school, Mark (sporting a long ponytail at the time) hitchhiked across Europe for a year, riding from Paris to Marseille on a one-speed bike. In 1971, during his first year in arts at the University of Toronto, his commitment to social justice led him to participate in a sit-in to open Robarts Library to undergrad students (a move that landed in him in jail for a night). He also worked with local residents to save the downtown Union Station from demolition.

He left university during his second year to join a project working with inner-city youth. His involvement with disadvantaged communities led to a 40-year career as a leader and champion of the co-operative movement. Today, almost every co-op sector in Canada bears his stamp.

He discovered co-op housing in 1973 at a public meeting in a Toronto library; captivated by its ability to bring together people of varied backgrounds and incomes to own and control their housing, he co-founded the Co-operative Federation of Toronto at the age of 21. Over the next decade, he helped to launch 23 housing co-ops with more than 2,000 units.

During that period he met his first wife, Alexandra Wilson, who also made a career in co-op housing. They worked together for many years and as he said, "Sometimes she was my boss, sometimes I was hers."

In 1986, Mark moved to Ottawa to lead co-op housing nationally through the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. He branched into other areas, including co-op ventures for workers, health care, funerals and car sharing, and helped to start the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Co-operative Development Program.

In 1991, he married Linda O'Neil, whom he met through a cousin. Though at times it was difficult to tear him away from his work, he and Linda travelled to the South Pacific, Israel and Egypt, went on safari in Africa, and last year visited Turkey with a busload of friends.

He was a member of many boards, including the Canadian Co-operative Association (now Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada) and the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation. He co-founded Rooftops Canada, an international non-governmental organization; and was the impassioned volunteer president of the Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa at the time of his passing.

He was a thinker, mentor and a great listener. His gentle and generous spirit was coupled with a warm sense of humour. Every day, he devoured The Globe to expand his knowledge of international affairs; he cared deeply about what was happening in the world, including the work of Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

In Mark's testament accompanying his will, he thanked the co-op movement for giving direction and purpose to his life. Many people, he noted, want to leave the world better than they found it, but he was more ambitious. "I wanted to create that better world on a sustainable basis," he wrote. "I don't think there is any future unless we build institutions of mutual assistance to guide and unite us in our day-to-day lives. Co-operatives are better than any institution I know to get this job done."

Linda O'Neil is Mark's wife; Ann Goldblatt is his younger sister.

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