Kelly Silverstein, 42: A Full Life's Worth Of Big-Hearted Giving
Jan 11, 2007
usually have only nice things to say about the departed – some of
which might even be true – but with Kelly Silverstein people always
had only nice things to say about him.
He really was just the greatest guy. Always
there for kids – any kid, not simply his own two boys. He was the
fundraiser you could count on. And a coach for eight teams spread through
four different sports.
He was the brother who rescued his fraternity
when it teetered on bankruptcy. The volunteer who always raised the most
money every year at Big Brothers and Big Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake. The
parent who donated the Raptors tickets that pushed the bidding over the
top at the school auction. The Dad who slipped the school principal a cheque
for sports camp for an underprivileged student he thought particularly
So when Silverstein died Nov. 20 at age
42 just four days after he was diagnosed with leukemia, there was a shocked
silence throughout his Hillcrest community.
And people wept when they heard.
There was standing room only at Holy Blossom
Temple – more than 1,200 people attended. The line snaked around
the corner, and the service was 25 minutes late starting.
"You could feel it," said Rabbi
John Moscowitz. "There was a sense the very best one of us had just
Silverstein's friends and family – wife
Jill, sons Oliver and Jonah – were there, as were his fraternity
brothers, his work colleagues, the teachers from the schools where he coached,
kids from the teams he coached, but also the guy who worked in the underground
parking lot in the building that housed his office.
He was that kind of guy.
"He was a stand-up kind of guy," said
Terry Karis, his barber at the Forest Hill Barber Shop. The two talked
about more than the weather when Silverstein came in for his camouflage
cut – short on sides, long on top – to hide the hair thinning
In the fall of 2005, Silverstein invited
Karis to a hockey old-timers function.
"My son Adam was on the ice with
Guy Lafleur. How good is that?" said Karis.
It got better, though. Karis had forgotten
his camera and just as he and his son were about to leave, Silverstein
hauled them over to Lafleur and took their picture together.
"He found a camera somewhere, somehow,
because he knew I was a Montreal fan. And he wasn't even one. He put it
in a frame and gave it to me. I treasure that picture," said Karis.
"He was goodness personified," said
Michael Kalles, a fraternity brother. "He gave his all to everything.
He wasn't a guy who asked you to lift a heavy piano and he carried the
piano bench. He'd be carrying 15 pianos." When they were students
at the University of Western Ontario together, it was Silverstein who started
Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.
First they met in a bedroom, then Silverstein
got the idea they should rent a house; then he decided they should buy
one – which they did, choice real estate at the corner of Cheapside
and Richmond Sts. – because he raised a ton of money.
He started a chapter at the University
of Windsor as well.
"Kelly did all the heavy lifting," Kalles
said. He mobilized them to raise the $10,000 they needed to retain their
charter when their chapter got in financial trouble. "He would say
that we have to ensure that the frat would be around when our kids wanted
He was always doing it for kids.
"He really was as fine a person as
you would ever meet," said John Hunter, principal of Hillcrest public
school, where the Silverstein sons had attended and their father coached.
He started the basketball team there – for
five years he called practices for 7:30 a.m. before he went to work. There
was an offer on the table for him to come back and coach again this winter.
"He was so kind to the kids. He had
a lot of trouble cutting them (from the team)," Hunter said.
For four years he coached two hockey teams
in the North Toronto house league. For even longer he also coached two
soccer teams, as well as baseball and basketball teams. Basketball was
his favourite sport, possibly because he was six-foot-four.
He'd take his teams out for chicken wings;
he'd sweep his sons' friends up along on their family outings.
"Lunch became dinner and then supper.
It was always one more invitation. That was the way it was with the whole
family. They were a team," said Elaine Lesniak, a single mom whose
son, Ari, 14, had been Oliver's best friend until they went to different
That never stopped Silverstein. "At
the bus when the kids were going off to camp, Kelly always made sure to
give Ari a big hug," she said.
"Every time you are with him, you
want to be with him more. You are just drawn to him," said Ari.
Maybe he was just a big kid in some ways.
He'd take the family and their friends to a Baskin-Robbins ice cream place,
seat them at the window and pay the kids $1 for every person they could
get to wave to them. "It was our job to get people to wave, in a freezing
cold night," Jill recalled.
Silverstein attacked life, reading three
newspapers daily, tearing out articles to send off to friends. "We
all got them with the note: FYI, KS," said Bonnie Blonder, Jill's
best friend since childhood.
As he was often first in the office of
Davis + Henderson cheque makers, he'd put on the coffee.
"Kelly just wanted to make sure everyone
was happy," said Jill with a smile.
He was the youngest of five children of
Sonny and Marlene Silverstein, of Silverstein's Bakery. "He was always
being picked up and cuddled," said his only sister Robin Silverstein-Eisen.
The family lived in a cul-de-sac near
Lawrence and Marlee in a house with a basketball hoop out front that was
the centre of activity for all the neighbourhood kids. Silverstein often
took his own family back there.
"He called it our `drive-bys,'" said
Jill. "He'd always tell the kids who lived in the houses. He wanted
us to know about the good things."
In 1998, Silverstein had returned to Toronto
after working in Atlanta when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He
postponed finding work to be with her. It was as if he pushed himself to
get in a full life's worth of giving.
"This was just his thing – to
do for others," said family friend Barbara Silverstein (no relation).
"He was so decent. I have never met
anyone like him."
"I can't tell you how many people
phoned us to volunteer because they heard about us from Kelly," said
Heather Sproule, executive director of Big Brothers and Sisters.
The day after Silverstein died, her office
received a donation from him via the United Way. "I had no idea that
beyond all that he was doing for us, that in his usual quiet fashion he
made an annual donation through the United Way."
Next month there will be an award in Silverstein's
name at the 2007 Bowl for Kids Sake.
"We thought about it for less than
a second," Sproule said. "It will be a fundraising award, which
at the least is very fitting."