Montreal

Mystery unveiled: Mr. Bike Man, who gave away hundreds of bikes to Montreal kids, dies at 93

Avrum Morrow told Sun Youth co-founder Sid Stevens when they met 34 years ago that he wanted to give back to the community but remain anonymous, and "the publicity it generated should go to the kids.”

Avrum 'Avi' Morrow donated 1,700 bikes, helmets and locks to underprivileged youth

Avrum Morrow graduated from Baron Byng High School in 1940. He co-founded a cleaning supply company and became a noted Montreal philanthropist. (Baron Byng High School Museum)

For more than three decades, Avrum "Avi" Morrow was known simply as Mr. Bike Man. Morrow was the anonymous donor who gave away more than 1,700 bicycles, helmets and locks to underprivileged children in Montreal.

He died Saturday at the age of 93.

His foundation will carry on the annual tradition of buying new bikes for the Sun Youth organization to give away every spring.

Sun Youth's co-founder and executive director, Sid Stevens, met Morrow 34 years ago. Morrow told him he wanted to give back to the community.

"He wanted it to remain anonymous because he always said, 'the purpose of giving is from the unknown to the unknown, and true happiness is found when you give,'" Stevens told CBC.

"It's a tremendous uplift" for the recipients of the bicycles, he said.

Morrow, a born-and-raised Montrealer, co-founded Laval-based Avmor Ltd., a manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions, in 1948.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 2007. The Governor General of Canada's website describes Morrow as "quietly generous."

Ever since the annual bike giveaway began, ads have run in local newspapers and on television, asking people to nominate young heroes in the community who have done something special, recommending them as candidates to receive a free bicycle.

Hundreds of applications come in, and some 100 bikes are given away with locks and helmets each May.

Morrow picked up the annual price tag, which hovers around $20,000. 

Stevens said that was just one project that Morrow supported, as he gave to several charities. Among his initiatives, Morrow, an amateur artist and collector who commissioned more than 400 works of art, created a private gallery that is open to community groups to use for fundraising and other events.

He became a long-time supporter of Concordia University, establishing the Dora Morrow Fellowship for Excellent Achievement in Visual Arts. He was a member of the Concordia Faculty of Fine Arts Advisory Board and, in 2005, received a Fine Arts Award of Distinction. 

Avrum Morrow's funeral service took place at Paperman & Sons in Montreal. He is buried at the Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

Neighbour remembers Morrow as busy, giving man

Morrow bought a house on Mira Road in Montreal's Snowdon district more than 50 years ago, moving in next door to Jo-Anne Kravitz. 

Kravitz, who still lives there, was friends with Morrow's daughter, Juli.

Later, Morrow invited Kravitz, her husband and their children to visit his second home in Martha's Vineyard, where he spent his summers.

"He was very friendly," she said. "He loved people."

Despite growing up with Morrow as a neighbour and knowing him most of her life, like most people, she said she had no idea he was the donor of thousands of bicycles. 

However, she said, she knew he was a generous person that gave to the community.

"He was such a busy man," she said. "He was always on the go. He wasn't around the house much. He loved to be out with people. He was a very giving man."

Montreal offers condolences 

There was a long line of cars in front of Paperman & Sons funeral home on Jean-Talon Street Monday morning as people waited to attend Morrow's funeral.

Morrow's great-nieces, Laura and Amy Fish, who spoke during the service, said their great-uncle regularly ate breakfast at their house growing up, driving their father to work and them to school — taking an active role in their upbringing.

"My Uncle Avi taught us never to walk by somebody with their hand out," said Laura Fish, "that there are always those who have less, and we have a responsibility to make this world a better place."

Carolyn Steinman says Avrum Morrow's donations helped disadvantaged students attend Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (CBC)

After the service, Carolyn Steinman told CBC she remembers Morrow as soft-spoken, kind and generous "beyond words."

He supported her fundraising efforts for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his donations provided scholarships to students that needed financial help, she said.

Laurence Glickman described Avrum Morrow as 'a true renaissance man.' (CBC)

Laurence Glickman, who knew Morrow for more than 35 years, described him as "a true renaissance man" who "always had something special for everybody."  

"He really was the centre of the moral universe and part of our extended family," Glickman said. "He meant a lot to so many people."

Anne Lewis knew all about the bicycles distributed by Sun Youth each year, but she was surprised to learn her artistic mentor, Avrum Morrow, was behind the anonymous initiative. (CBC)

Anne Lewis said Morrow encouraged her as an artist, and while she knew about Sun Youth's bicycle giveaway, she didn't realize her mentor was the one behind the initiative.

"He was the most incredibly generous person, and it was no sooner said than done," she said. "He was just a remarkable achiever."

Dozens have already offered their condolences online, posting their thoughts and memories on the funeral home's website.

"He was larger than life and touched many with his kindness and generous spirit," wrote Nancy Gurberg. "He was a teacher, a mentor and a community friend."

From Baron Byng to sanitation supplies

In a video interview posted on the website of the Baron Byng High School Museum, Morrow, who graduated in 1940, said he met his wife, Dora Berkson, at the school, when he was 13 and she was 11.

They were married for 71 years.

Morrow was studying engineering physics at McGill University when his father died. Morrow tried to take over his father's jacket-making business but soon realized that was not his calling in life. 

Instead, he saw a niche market and co-founded his sanitation supplies company.

After buying and selling soaps for a time, the company began manufacturing its own cleaning products as it developed into what is now, according to the company's website, "North America's leading provider of professional cleaning solutions."

With files from Navneet Pall

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