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August 27, 2014In 1951 a Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer penned a book for women full of advice on how to keep their men happy. Tidbits included when to speak, what to cook, and what to wear. Little gems of wisdom—each and every one.

About that same time, another man—Purdy Crawford—was beginning his law career at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt in downtown Toronto. While Reverend Tyrer was busy advising women on the importance of cooking a good flank steak, Purdy was establishing himself as one of the most respected Canadian business leaders of his generation and creating a legacy of sponsoring women that is unparalleled in corporate Canada. He sponsored the woman who went on to become the first woman on the Supreme Court of Canada—welcoming her to his law firm in the 1950s and, eventually, helping her move on to the partner track. Another woman he sponsored became CEO for Home Depot Canada and Asia. Another became the General Counsel for Scotiabank, one of the largest banks in the world. These are but a few of the women Purdy supported who have spoken about the profound impact he had in their professional lives.

When Catalyst was founded in 1962, we started to do formally what Purdy had been doing informally for some time—supporting women in business. We identified the importance of having more women in the workplace, and more Purdys to support their integration and advancement, so that the world could benefit from the skills and talents of all of our people—not just half.

Today we honoured Purdy’s life and legacy, in a packed church, with his beautiful wife of 62 years, his six children and seventeen grandchildren, and hundreds of his friends, colleagues, and admirers. The well-earned tributes following news of his death have highlighted a range of attributes including his great intellect and business leadership, his ability to find and develop talent everywhere he went, and his incomparable legacy of sponsoring women well before they were “mainstream” in the workplace.

Most importantly, these tributes commended his wonderful values and fundamental decency as a person. I had a privileged vantage point to witness these values in action growing up. Our families were close. Purdy and his wife graciously agreed that, if anything happened to my parents, they would raise me and my four sisters, with their own six kids, as their own.

Purdy grew up in a town of 200, attending school in a two-room school house. I don’t know how he came to be such a great champion of women. But, he did. And when we honoured him last year, at our Catalyst Canada Honours Dinner, as our Board Diversity Champion, 700 business leaders gave him a standing ovation. 

There are no words, really, to describe the impact Purdy had on corporate Canada. But we offer thanks for what he did for women and for doing it early and doing it often.

He helped establish the first generation of women business leaders. They have been paying it forward ever since.