The anonymous donor of more than 1,700 bicycles to disadvantaged children over the past three decades was motivated by Maimonides’ teaching that the highest level of charity is when the giver and receiver are unknown to each other.
Avrum (Avi) Morrow’s generosity was only confirmed after his death at age 94 on Jan. 5.
On his 60th birthday, Morrow – the founder of Avmor Ltd., a leading manufacturer of industrial cleaning products – decided he would celebrate by helping the less fortunate in a novel way.
As he said, “What could be a greater gift than giving?”
As a kid, his family was too poor to buy him a bike, so Morrow thought of brightening the lives of those in similar situations. His only stipulation was that no one should know who the donor was (nor did he want to know the identities of the recipients).
Only his partner in the project, the Sun Youth Organization, knew who he was.
Every spring for 34 years, Sun Youth has given away new bikes, plus helmets and locks, to underprivileged youth through an open competition. The public only knew that the “Bikeman” made it possible.
Morrow also quietly helped Sun Youth over the years, supporting, for example, families who lost their homes in fires, and offering cash rewards for missing children.
The Montreal Association for the Blind was another beneficiary of his understated philanthropy.
Morrow, who was born in Montreal, founded Avmor in 1948 with his brother-in-law Henry Chinks, after studying engineering physics at McGill University. His nephew, Mattie Chinks, Avmor’s current president, has been running the family business with him for the past 50 years.
Mattie Chinks noted that Morrow was generous to his employees, as well. Turkeys were given out at Christmas and Morrow and wife Dora celebrated their 70th anniversary with the staff.
“This was a reflection of his belief that all employees should be part of the organization’s success,” Chinks said.
What could be a greater gift than giving?
– Avrum Morrow
One of his little pleasures was making jars of horseradish each year that he gave to friends at Passover.
Morrow was widely recognized within the sanitation industry and was proud that, in 2007, he became the first person from that sector to be named to the Order of Canada. He was cited for his achievements in business, which included developing environmentally friendly products, and his contributions to the community. The name Avmor is familiar to anyone who has used a public washroom, as it’s on the electric hand dryers that the company developed.
Morrow was passionate about art and music, an appreciation he attributed to his teachers at Fairmount School and Baron Byng High School, and was a supporter of local artists.
He turned Avmor’s original headquarters in a historic building in Old Montreal into a gallery, which he offered as a venue for fundraising events. He commissioned over 400 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs from mainly local artists, both well established and obscure, and displayed them in the gallery.
Morrow was also a longtime supporter of Concordia University, where he established the Dora Morrow Fellowship for Excellent Achievement in Visual Art, as well as of McGill and the University of Ottawa.
His foundation has promised to carry on the annual tradition of giving away bikes.