Paul Godfrey: Giving Back To The Community

When Paul Godfrey speaks, people listen.

Probably best known for his role in sports, business and politics Paul Godfrey would like you to know about the Herbie fund, a charity that provides financial support for children around the world to receive surgical treatment at the Hospital For Sick Children. He would like you to know about the Salvation Army and their quest to meet human needs and be a transforming influence in our communities. He would like you to consider the atrocity that is the plight of the homeless in Toronto and other cities across Canada. He would like you to know all of this and more.

Paul Godfrey is a Toronto icon. He has had an amazing career in politics as the Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto. In 1999 he was awarded the Order of Canada. He was appointed President and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club in September, 2000 after being instrumental in having attracted the Major League team to the city in the first place. Subsequent to this, he struck a sweetheart deal for Ted Rogers to take ownership of the team’s stadium known as SkyDome – now the Rogers Center. A day after the season ended Godfrey announced that he was leaving the team at the end of 2008.

Admitting that the Stadium was not built with the National Football League in mind, Godfrey does not hide the fact that he and Ted Rogers have been trying to lure an NFL franchise to Toronto, Canada’s largest city for some time now. In his spare time he devotes endless hours to charitable causes because he wants to make a difference. Most people get out of bed in the morning, have breakfast and wonder what they are going to do that day.

Growing up in a working class Jewish neighbourhood in the Kensington Market section of Toronto, Paul Godfrey was ripe to enter politics at an early age. But his first love steered him to the University of Toronto where he graduated with a Master of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering. After a stint with Canadian Industrial, Ltd. he was drawn into Toronto politics. He began as an alderman in the borough of North York in 1964 and served until 1973. That year he was appointed Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto where he served until 1984.

Godfrey’s decision to forego politics was spurred on by the opportunity to become Publisher and CEO of the Toronto Sun. “When I took it over it may not have been a respected paper but I think we did a fair job of turning it around,” he said proudly. He played out his publishing role from 1984 to 1991. After his departure from electoral politics he has remained a highly influential backroom broker. He was particularly influential during the mayoral terms of Art Eggleton and Mel Lastman and played an instrumental role in the election of both men.

“Paul is, in my opinion, the master of all taskmasters,” states Aine Curran, President of Curran Events Media, a Toronto-based public relations firm. “Every single project that I have had the privilege of working with him on he gives a perfect 100 per cent every time,” she says. “His first order of business is respecting everyone. I think he sets this tone with everyone he meets. My experience with Paul as the National spokesperson for the Salvation Army is an example of his level of dedication to a project. There isn’t any one time that I have asked Paul to do something for the Salvation Army that he hasn’t exceeded our expectations.”

Asked if he was a sports fan growing up he answers “I loved sports. My mother loved politics; my father loved sports. I wasn’t a particularly good athlete but my father’s proudest day was when I announced that Major League baseball was coming to Toronto.

“We took over the team when the attendance had gone down from a high of 4.6 million to a low of 1 million. It was worse than Montreal,” Godfrey adds. “With Ted Rogers, a great Canadian buying the team, we were able to improve profitability. He made a strong commitment in buying the team and the stadium and the end result is that we now have a competitive team.”

Godfrey has been spearheading a drive to get NFL football in Toronto for many years. Reports say NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has Toronto high on his radar screen for cities he would like to be in. “The NFL will not expand in the foreseeable future,” Godfrey responds. “But they will relocate. It’s just a matter of time.”

Aside from time in the world of sports business Mr. Godfrey is closely involved with the Salvation Army and another cause called the Herbie Fund (started by Paul and his wife Gina at the Sick Kids Hospital). He was led in that particular direction Paul says because “I was brought up in a household where we were taught to give back. I give about 20 per cent of my time to charitable causes,” he says.

“My wife Gina and I had learned about a seven-month old baby that had been experiencing “dying spells,” a problem caused when the windpipe and the esophagus are attached and he was choking to death. We raised an enormous amount of money to bring “baby Quinones” to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. A wonderful man, Dr. Fuller donated his services and we had a lot of money left over. He is now 29 years old and comes back to Toronto often. The fund continues to raise money to treat children from all around the world.

One problem that tugs at his heartstrings is the plight of the homelessness. He was once quoted as saying “Some people on the left point to everything that’s involved in free enterprise and blame that on their inability to solve a social problem that other cities have solved. There are less people sleeping on the streets in New York than are sleeping on the streets in Toronto. I am appalled in this day and time, that we find it difficult to solve this problem. I don’t believe that it is a homeless problem. It’s a mental health problem. A great humanitarian by the name of Harry “Red” Foster worked hard at getting group homes built here in Toronto. There was not a lot of support from the city back then. The homes never got built. To me this is sinful.”

Closing in on 70 years of age, Godfrey does not show any signs of slowing down. “I bought a condo down in Sunny Isles, Florida,” he smiles giving a slight indication that there may be more sun than snow in his future. “I now have three granddaughters and another on the way and right now I can’t think of anything more thrilling than to spend time with them.” As rumors continue to circulate that he will call it a day with the Blue Jays, easy money says the will be at the helm of the new football club, should it arrive on Blue Jays Way. He may be keeping his cards pretty close to the vest these days but you can bet that should he talk, people will be listening.

Pull-out quotes

“There isn’t any one time that I have asked Paul to do something for the Salvation Army that he hasn’t exceeded our expectations.” – Aine Curran

“I was brought up in a household where we were taught to give back. I give about 20 per cent of my time to charitable causes.” – Paul Godfrey

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