Morton “Morty” Brownstein, a founder of the Brown’s Shoes footwear chain, and one of the Jewish community’s most prominent figures, died May 23 at age 85.
Brownstein was one of six siblings born to community-involved parents Benjamin and Minnie.
He was known for his work in the community, as well as for his philanthropy, fundraising skills, humour, and integrity.
In 1979, Brownstein agreed to take on the demanding work of the annual Combined Jewish Appeal Campaign of Allied Jewish Community Services, the precursor to Federation CJA.
He became most prominent in the community, though, for his 35-year association with the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), which he attributed in part to his parents being part of the original 1929 campaign to build the institution.
Brownstein began his JGH involvement in 1979 as a member of its budget and finance committee, and went on in 1988 to become board president. In 1984 he chaired the hospital’s capital campaign and co-chaired it in 1998.
In 2003, Brownstein helped launch the JGH foundation’s Power to Heal $200-million-campaign to maintain the hospital’s level of excellence, and in 2009, he received the La Palme du Philanthrope award from the Quebec chapter of the Association of Philanthropy Professionals.
In a 1979 CJN profile, Brownstein attributed his sense of community service to his family.
“My family has a history of such involvement, and for me it completes our involvement in the community.”
The family shoe business, which began in 1940 on St. Catherine Street, was the family’s second store. The first was a general store run by his father on “the Main.”
Shoes became the family’s exclusive business, and Brownstein once said that he wants every customer to say, “I need to go to Brown’s, not I need to buy a pair of shoes.”
The chain now has more than 40 stores.
A recipient of the Order of Canada in 2004, Brownstein also was active in fundraising for the Montreal Association of the Blind and many other charitable endeavours. Ten percent of Brown’s Shoes pre-tax profits are earmarked for charities.
Brownstein is survived by his wife of 65 years, Bernice (Greenfield); children Michael, Janis and Cheryl; siblings Harold, André, Irwin, and Beatrice; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.