Philanthropist Marvelle Koffler dies at age 90

Marvelle and Murray Koffler (Photo Credit: Hudson Taylor Photography)

Marvelle Koffler, a passionate supporter of the arts and steadfast advocate for women’s health and humanitarian causes, died in her Toronto home on Jan. 14. She was 90 years old.

“A woman of endless grace, Marvelle described her life as magical, adventurous and like a dream,” read her death notice. “A woman of vision, Marvelle was committed to pushing the boundaries for the betterment of women’s health, the arts and science.”

Marvelle and her late husband, Murray Koffler, lent their name, time and money to a variety of causes, including pharmacy management, scientific and medical research, the arts and health programs for aboriginal Canadians.

Among them was the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, which opened in 1995, shortly after Koffler’s own diagnosis of breast cancer. It was the first multidisciplinary breast centre in Canada and has seen almost one million patient visits to date. The couple also established the Marvelle Koffler chair in breast cancer at the hospital.

“Her vision and the impact of her generosity has touched so many lives of those receiving and delivering care at Mount Sinai Hospital and beyond,” said Gary Newton, president and CEO of Sinai Health.

Murray Koffler – an arts patron, philanthropist, business icon and founder of the Shoppers Drug Mart chain – died in 2017 at the age of 93.

Murray and Marvelle Koffler also established the Koffler Centre of the Arts in 1977, as part of the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre. From 1980 to 2009, the Koffler Gallery had its own dedicated space at the JCC.

Koffler was “a woman of extraordinary kindness and grace who touched many people’s lives with her generous spirit and joie de vivre,” said Karen Tisch, executive director of the Koffler Centre of the Arts, which is now located on Queen Street West. “Marvelle’s vision and commitment were not only instrumental to the success of the Koffler (centre), but also to the flourishing of Jewish arts and culture in Canada.”

Koffler also established the International Committee of Women for Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

With her husband, she established the Toronto Outdoor Art Show and served on the board of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in addition to many arts councils.

Marvelle Seligman was born in Toronto on Feb. 3, 1929, the youngest of four children of Eva, a seamstress who escaped the Russian pogroms, and Irving, a former Talmudic scholar and poet from Rachov, Poland, who toiled as a dressmaker in Spadina Avenue garment shops while building his own coat manufacturing business in Toronto.

Then 20 years old, Murray Koffler was paddling a canoe on Lake Simcoe, in southern Ontario, with a boyhood chum, when he spotted a beautiful girl sunning herself on a raft. He asked to be introduced to “that stunner.” Six years later, in 1950, the two were wed.

“I was as bashful and awkward as any innocent young thing could be,” Koffler told Frank Rasky, author of  Just a Simple Pharmacist, a biography of her husband. “But thanks to Murray, I caught up.”

“The greatest thing I have going for me is Marvelle,” Murray Koffler told Rasky. “She has long caught up with me and surpassed me in so many ways.”

After Prince Philip was a guest at the couple’s Ontario horse farm, Jokers Hill, the Kofflers were invited to the 1973 wedding of Princess Anne to Capt. Mark Phillips, and to a party at Buckingham Palace. There, Koffler and Queen Elizabeth engaged in a 15-minute discussion “about – you’ll never guess – the paper dolls we used to cut out as children,” Koffler later recalled. “I told her how I’d cut out and save from girls’ cut-out books paper dolls of herself, her sister Margaret and her mom and dad.” The Queen’s reply was, “I did the same thing.”

Koffler was inducted into the Order of Ontario in 1998.

The Kofflers were also founding members of Toronto’s Temple Emanu-El.

“Marvelle brought her kindness, wisdom and graciousness into all she did,” said the temple’s Rabbi Debra Landsberg. “She was truly a marvel – a woman who loved life and shared that joy with all she met. Already, so many and diverse members of this congregation have already begun to share their stories about how she touched them, even in small interactions.”

She is survived by her children, Leon, Theo, Tom, Adam and Tiana, 27 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.