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Canada’s worker co-ops mourn the loss of co-op pioneer Mark Goldblatt

Canada’s worker co-operative movement is deeply saddened by the loss of CWCF’s Past President Mark Goldblatt, who died on Tuesday, February 3rd of an apparent heart attack.

“Mark’s contributions to building the worker co-operative movement in Canada were instrumental in building the movement, and its national Federation,” said Hazel Corcoran, Executive Director of the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (CWCF).

His outstanding qualities were his vision, intellect, dedication to co-operation, generosity, humility, sense of humour and fun, integrity, commitment, perseverance and inability to be uncaring or mean to anyone, in other words a sort of radical kindness.

Mark Goldblatt’s personal engagement with co-operatives reflects the dynamism and innovation that have characterized the co-operative movement in Canada throughout its history. Although we have lost a great co-op champion, Mark planted many seeds which have grown and are growing into lasting co-operative organizations.

Mark, as a member of Sound Advice Worker Co-op, joined the Board of CWCF in 1993, was its first president, and served in this role for 13 years from 1994 until 2007. He brought a clear vision of building a strong self-sustaining movement, strategic thinking about the required elements to develop a fledgling sector (having been a national leader in the housing co-op movement beforehand), and skill and dedication at government relations. At heart, Mark was a deeply committed co-operator. He was also a kind, humble and generous human being who mentored young people, would step in to do what was needed and sought no recognition or remuneration for his work beyond what it took to live a modest life with his beloved wife, Linda O’Neil.

Before his involvement with worker co-ops, he had been a founding leader of the co-op housing movement in Canada, which he discovered at age 21 in the early 1970s. He served in various significant roles in that sector, including Executive Director of the Co-op Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) in the 1980s.

He became a leading advocate of all forms of co-operatives, serving on the founding Board of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) from 1987 to 1989. For another eight years (1999-2007), he represented the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation, and, informally, CHF Canada, on the Board of CCA. And he contributed to the creation and success of many forms of co-ops as a co-operative development manager with CCA from 2007 to 2012.  More recently he became involved in the funeral co-op sector, notably as founding President of the Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa. From 2013 until the time of his death, he served as the volunteer Government Relations Officer for CWCF, and on the Boards of the Western Labour-Worker Co-op Council (collaboration between the worker co-op movement and trade unions), and the Big Idea Rainbow Foundation, whose goal was to use music, theatre and other forms of popular culture to spread the co-operative message. Mark was also a member of CoopZone.

Mark was awarded many honours for his lifetime achievements. In 2007, he received CWCF’s Worker Co-op Merit Award and at the same time was made an Honorary Member of CWCF, the first and so far only person to receive this recognition. He received various awards in the co-op housing field. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from On Co-op in 2002 which resulted in the video profile below, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Mark’s warmth, generosity and dedication to co-operatives are universally praised by his colleagues and friends in all corners of Canada’s co-op movement:

Alain Bridault, CWCF President (2009-present)

“His legacy is so important for us. I deeply respected his wisdom and his openness to everyone and every new idea. I asked him to help me when I was first elected, and he was generous with his advice. I will never forget what he has done and what he was in the history of worker co-operatives in Canada.”

April Bourgeois, CWCF Past President (2007-2009)

“What a terrible loss to the movement, and to the world. He was one of my Heroes, too.”

David Daughton, Past Board Member, CWCF and Past President & current Board member, CoopZone

“End of an Era. What a mensch! It’s a sad day for those who knew and loved Mark, but I’m happy that he lived to see the birth of CMC. R.I.P. mon vieux. … I feel honoured to have spent so much time learning from him.”

Jessica Provencher, CWCF Quebec Director

“Son d�vouement pour le monde coop�ratif �tait fascinant et inspirant. Sa passion et son intelligence nous manqueront beaucoup.”

Colin MacDougall, past CWCF Ontario Director, and Youth Advisor, now Director, Corporate Services, Agency for Co-operative Housing

“Mark was one of the first mentors I had in my career. After I joined the CWCF board as youth advisor he took me out for many a lunch to patiently and thoroughly explain the ins and outs of this wacky world of worker co-ops. Those lunches continued over the years, only the topics expanded to include the wacky world of housing, then of funeral co-operatives. That man was something special. Legend indeed!”

Kelly Storie, La Siembra Co-op Financial Officer

“Mark was generous with his knowledge, making sure that there was another generation of co-operators to keep the movement and the discussion spirited. He was a total inspiration to me and many of the workers at La Siembra. Such a tragic loss for the whole community. Lots of love to the whole co-op family on this loss.”

Nicholas Gazzard, Executive Director, CHF Canada

“Mark was a true co-op housing pioneer and leader. He was a visionary whose ideas, such as a pooled investment program, were before their time. It was Mark who first crystallized the resolve and determination of our movement into the phrase ‘Co-op housing never takes no for an answer.'”

“Mark was one of the kindest, most generous people it has ever been my privilege to know.  He will be greatly missed and long remembered.”

Denyse Guy, Executive Director, Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada

“Mark was a gentle, inspirational and creative person.  He was instrumental in building institutional capacity in so many co-operative worlds across business sectors.  He touched people in whatever he did. He was also a voice of steadfast support in the most difficult moments of the creation of CMC. We’ve lost a mentor, a leader and a dear friend.”

Alexandra Wilson, CEO, Agency for Co-op Housing (and former CHF Canada executive director)

“Mark was instrumental in putting both CHF Toronto and CHF Canada on a sound financial footing by taking steps to ensure that both federations charged meaningful dues to their members. At CHF Canada, he invented the idea of sector support. It is not an exaggeration to say that CHF Canada and CHFT would not be the organizations they are today if he hadn’t passed through them.”

Hazel Corcoran, Executive Director, Canadian Worker Co-op Federation

“Mark was the volunteer president of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation for approximately 13 years, and dedicated himself to it as if it were a paid position.  Although very self-effacing, he was a champion and visionary for the worker co-op movement in Canada, as he was also for other co-operative sectors. CWCF would not exist in the way it does today if not for Mark. He was also one of my best friends.”

Although the co-op world, his family and friends mourn today, we are blessed with the many co-operative organizations in diverse sectors, which are his lasting legacy. May he rest in peace.”

All those who have worked with Mark appreciate his dedication, his enthusiasm, his remarkable sense of vision and his extraordinary capacity to share that vision with others. In addition to his skill and commitment, Mark enjoyed a sense of humour that helped boards make their way through long, demanding meetings. A phrase he used to describe the challenges of the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (“Huge mandate, tiny resources”) could often be applied more broadly to other branches of the co-operative movement. Thanks to Mark’s leadership, many co-operatives now have the same demanding mandates as before, but greater resources to call upon in pursuing them.

To honour him for the rich gifts he has bestowed on us, we pledge to continue to help build a strong worker co-op movement / co-op movement generally for as long as we are needed. It is what Mark would have wished. The Board of CWCF will also ponder other ways to honour Mark’s legacy.

A memorial service will take place at 3:00 p.m. this Sunday at the First Unitarian Church of Ottawa at 30 Cleary Avenue. CWCF Executive Director Hazel Corcoran and Financial Officer Peter Hough both plan to attend. We send our deepest condolences to Mark’s wife, Linda O’Neil, his other family members and friends. It is a great loss. No degree of rational thinking, or quiet words, can alter the grief which his family must feel, and which we share with them, hoping to make it lighter.

For more information about Mark Goldblatt’s incredible contributions to Canada’s co-op movement, watch for the next edition of the CWCF newsletter.

This is the 2-minute video made to celebrate Mark’s receiving the OnCoop Lifetime Achievement Award:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0kSi586tZo.

Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada has created a Memorial Blog for Mark. People who would like to leave comments can do so at: https://markgoldblattmemorial.wordpress.com/ .