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Murray Frum and Nancy Lockhart in Toronto, Ont., September 10, 2011.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Murray Frum, who made a sizable fortune as a real estate developer and a sterling reputation as an art collector and philanthropist, has died at 81.

"… My father's extraordinary sureness became a rock upon which everyone who knew him rested and trusted," his son, the journalist and political commentator, David Frum, wrote in The Daily Beast. "That rock cracked Monday, May 27, at a little past six o'clock in the evening. After a struggle of a little less than seven weeks, my father – a lifelong non-smoker – died of metastatic lung cancer."

The son of a grocer, Dr. Frum earned his way through school working as a Fuller Brush salesman among other jobs. He studied dentistry at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1956. The next year, he married Barbara Rosberg, a history student who became famous as the radio and television broadcaster Barbara Frum.

The couple bought their first piece of African art on their honeymoon in a museum gift shop, and later amassed an internationally recognized collection, which has been donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Dr. Frum founded Frum Development Group in 1972, which built and managed shopping malls and apartment buildings throughout Canada. He later became interested in architecture, and promoted the work and careers of Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe.

Two years after Ms. Frum died of leukemia in 1992, Dr. Frum married Nancy Lockhart, a vice-president of Shoppers Drug Mart. Together, they expanded their collecting interests into Oceanic and Renaissance art.

As a collector, Dr. Frum loved the chase, the sleuthing, the knowledge that came from finding a treasure and the pleasure of displaying a piece in harmony with seemingly disparate works. He had a keen eye for business deals, people and objets. One of his most recent coups was discovering a Baroque bronze of a crucified Jesus that was thought to be an insignificant piece from the Italian School, but was later authenticated as a work created by the great 17th-century sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is now in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

"He was very engaged with us as a trustee, and was very knowledgeable and strategic as a member of the building committee of the new gallery," said Matthew Teitelbaum, the director and CEO of the AGO.

"There are very few people in my experience who had a finer sense of taste," Mr. Teitelbaum said, describing Dr. Frum "as a very generous collector, who had a real interest in and fidelity to the hand-made in art."

An active member of the social and cultural communities, Dr. Frum was a past president of the Ontario Arts Council and the Stratford Festival, as well as a trustee of the Art Gallery of Ontario, a director of Mount Sinai Hospital and a member of the Order of Canada. He is survived by Ms. Lockhart, three children and several grandchildren. The funeral is planned for the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto at 11 a.m. on Friday. A full obituary is forthcoming.