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  From the
  Celebrating a local hero and the best of the city
Mirvish's birthday party is more than a family affair
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Kevin Van Paassen,
National Post]

Clowns were just some of the live entertainment featured at Honest Ed's during Ed Mirvish's 89th birthday party on Bloor Street yesterday.

It was Ed Mirvish's birthday party yesterday, an annual celebration held on the west side of Honest Ed's at Bloor and Bathurst streets.

Too bad it's raining, I thought, as I slid into a seat near the stage. And too bad Ed's not here to enjoy his party. Ed (who actually turned 89 on June 24) has been in hospital for seven weeks following a bad fall. For a while, after he developed pneumonia, the prognosis didn't look good at all. But yesterday, Russell Lazar, Ed's long-time assistant, said that despite the odds, Ed seems to be on the road to recovery.

The birthday party had all the pomp and circumstance that attends a tribute to a local hero --Ed's friends and family were there, as were city politicians and total strangers who admire Ed from afar. There were even birthday greetings from afar, from the likes of Tony Bennett, Mickey Rooney and Jean Chrétien.

The gathering also included a couple who have touched everyone in Toronto: When George Stonehouse and Marie Jones, the parents of 10-year-old Holly, who was murdered in May, were introduced, a hush fell on the crowd.

"I always thought that if anything like this happened to me, I couldn't function, that I would end up in the hospital," Maria Jones told the crowd. "But you have given us the strength."

Our hearts went out to them. Like many, I wanted to tell them how much I have thought about them in recent weeks, but I was uncertain what to do. I ended up approaching them, then dropping my business cards and pen on the ground. As I bent to retrieve the items, I looked into the sad eyes of George Jones, who helped me to pick them up. I thanked him, and as I sat there in the rain half-listening to the speeches, mostly thinking of the Joneses, a young woman asked if I would like her umbrella so my notes wouldn't get wet. I turned and offered it to Maria Jones.

[Photo: Kevin Van Paassen,
National Post]

"I'll hold it for you," she offered, so we huddled together under the umbrella.

"Hug the person next to you," Anne Mirvish, Ed's wife, said from the stage. "I think we should celebrate the gift of life, the power of love. That's what Ed would want." I so wanted to hug my seat mate, but held back. She'd think I was crazy, I thought.

Later, after I got up to take some photos, I looked back and couldn't see the Joneses. There was so much I had wanted to say to them, about how courageous and dignified they had been throughout the tragedy. I looked about some more, and it was then that I saw them, standing off in the corner alone. Many people were aware of them, but like me, most held back, trying to figure out the polite, Toronto thing to do.

Then I remembered what Anne Mirvish had said, and a hug seemed like the best response in the world. I walked up to George Jones and put my arms around him. Then I gave Maria Jones a hug as well. And wept.

It was then it dawned on me that this is what Ed Mirvish is all about, the best of Toronto, whether it's rallying around a devastated family like the Jones, giving away thousands of Christmas turkeys or throwing a free party for anyone who might like to come. In short, it was a family affair.

I asked Anne to sum up her feelings for Ed, the inspiration for all of this, in the form of a birthday card. She changed her words a few times so that she would get them note perfect, then said with tears in her eyes:

Dearest Eddie,

I hope we have many more happy years together,

I want to hold you in my arms and I can't,

I want you home.

Love Annie

Maria Jones came over to say goodbye to Anne, and they hugged and cried, like good friends do.

"I hope that Ed's going to be OK," Maria told her.

George Jones stood quietly to the side. "Would you mind a picture with Anne Mirvish and your wife?" I asked tentatively. He shook his head, "No, I'm sorry," he said, not unkindly. A bit of a media frenzy began in front of Maria, but she quickly made her way over to her husband. "I have to go," she whispered, her voice cracking, and the two left quickly.

"I saw you talking with Holly Jones' parents," said a voice. I looked up to see mayoral candidate John Tory. "I feel the same way, Sharon," he said, noticing my wet eyes. "I feel so badly for them."

So here we were -- one big family, really, standing in the rain, consoling one another about Holly Jones, and honouring Ed, who has made a life's work out of turning every one of us into his immediate family.

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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