Urban planner, activist, friend. Born on Dec. 25, 1936, in Winnipeg; died on Jan. 22, 2015, in Merida, Mexico, of a cerebral hemorrhage, aged 78.
Pat Zolf loved, dreamed and fought to heal the world. She drew intense joy from life's pleasures, big and small. A cigarette and a glass of wine. The latest frocks from Sarah's. A good meal. A good movie. Better yet, a bunch of good movies at the Toronto International Film Festival, which she attended religiously for 38 years, from its first year to her last. And her laugh! That wonderful, exclamatory crescendo! How she loved to laugh.
She loved being at home in her farmhouse in Ontario's Prince Edward County, where in retirement she nurtured her perennials. And she loved travelling, to Italy, California, Mexico, and carefree jaunts to New York that began five decades ago – film noir, opera, radical feminism, the Village, lots of jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Betty Carter. In the late 1970s a group of friends went with Pat to hear Ella at the Imperial Room in Toronto. Ella recognized her.
Inseparable from Pat's love of life was her marvellous, luminous capacity for friendship. She was always there for her friends – loyally, inexhaustibly. Though her spirit took a lot of pounding over the years, and in the last decade her body did, too, her friendship was never about her, always about you; never about taking, always about giving. Her sudden passing, while on vacation in Mexico, left many feeling shocked and bereft.
Then there was her activism. After earning her degree in political science and economics at the University of Toronto in 1959, she became involved in a citizen's movement that stopped the federal government from building a jet airport on Toronto's eastern lakefront. She was co-chair of a coalition whose advocacy of a light-rail transit system in Scarborough helped bring an end to plans for an expressway that would have run right through the borough; and she led a campaign, during a brief stint in Ottawa in the early 1970s, against a high-rise development along the Rideau Canal.
In 1974, Pat became an urban planner for the City of Toronto, a job she held for 24 years. She led the effort to save from demolition the historic Art Moderne suite (now the Carlu event space) atop the old Eaton's department store. Her convictions found their way into every file she handled – a preference for development that isn't massive and dehumanizing; for major roads that are modest, not monstrous; for housing developments that include affordable units for families; and for the preservation of heritage architecture.
She also held a string of senior positions in Local 79 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and was a strong voice for women's equality and pay equity, serving on the city's task force on the status of women. After retiring in 1998, she continued to push for affordable housing in her Dufferin Grove neighbourhood in Toronto, and in Prince Edward County.
Pat was not stirred to action by philosophical notions of social justice or good design. Rather, she was an intuitive humanist. She saw communities, the urban environment and the workplace from the vantage point of people who inhabit them. Her activism was built upon respect for the equality of every individual, a belief in everyone's entitlement to a comfortable and fulfilling life, and an abhorrence of the abuse of power. Her memory will endure. May her credo, too.
Jeff Rose is a long-time friend and colleague of Pat.