Jack Rabinovitch, creator of Giller Prize, dies at 87
Literary prize established in 1994 by Montreal-born businessman called a 'huge public legacy'
Jack Rabinovitch, the beloved businessman who created the lucrative and prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize literary award that boosted the profiles and sales of countless Canadian fiction authors, has died.
Rabinovitch died Sunday afternoon in Toronto, his daughter Elana confirmed. He was 87.
An obituary posted on the website of Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel, which is handling the funeral arrangements, said Rabinovitch died as a result of a "catastrophic fall" at this home last week.
The Montreal-born, Toronto-based Rabinovitch tackled several careers throughout his life, including journalism, food retail and real estate. But it was his Giller award that made him a recognizable face across Canada and internationally.
The idea for the renowned honour was hatched not over boardroom coffee, but over bar drinks with author Mordecai Richler.
"It started at a pub in Montreal called Woody's and ended up at a famous restaurant in Montreal called Moishes, and over chopped liver we decided what to do," Rabinovitch told The Canadian Press at the Giller Prize gala in October 2012.
The prize was established in 1994, a year after the death of Rabinovitch's wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.
Rabinovitch wanted to create a literary award to honour Giller while also recognizing excellence in Canadian fiction — in long format or short stories.
"The only real major [literary] prize [back then] was the Governor General's and most people just felt that it wasn't right to just let the government handle the situation," said Rabinovitch, who was named Maclean's magazine Man of the Year in 1999.
"So private people like myself and various other people have started new prizes to highlight and admire new writers."
The Giller Prize initially endowed $25,000, which was the largest purse for literature in the country.
For the price of a dinner in this town you can buy all the nominated books. So, eat at home and buy the books.- Jack Rabinovitch, on Giller-nominated books
In 2005, the award teamed up with Scotiabank, and the prize has grown to what is now $100,000 for the winner and $10,000 for each finalist.
According to the prize's website, more than 2.5 million Giller-nominated books were sold in the first 10 years of the award, resulting in headlines about the so-called "Giller effect" on finalists.
"We learned a long time ago that authors are really interested in selling their books, that's how they make a living, so that's what we're trying to do — is help them make a living," said Rabinovitch, whose signature line at every Giller gala was: "For the price of a dinner in this town you can buy all the nominated books. So, eat at home and buy the books."
Linden MacIntyre, who won the Giller Prize for his novel The Bishop's Man in 2009, said in a statement that Rabinovitch was "a warm, generous and funny man."
"His gifts to the culture have been substantial and his legacy will endure. His death, however, is a loss that is personal and deep," the former CBC News journalist said.
The literary prize is a "huge public legacy," said former Liberal leader Bob Rae, a longtime friend of Rabinovitch.
"But his other great legacy is his friendships," Rae said. "He had an amazing ability to connect with people.
"His stories, and his jokes and his irreverence ... all that stuff was just part of who he was."
Beyond the spike in sales and the exposure, the Giller also gives authors the opportunity to break away from their typically isolated writing lives and dress up at the annual awards gala, where a who's who of the literary world and beyond come together for a night of fine dining and entertainment.
"I think it's amazing for books to get this kind of attention at an event like this. It's unparalleled," said Giller nominee Alix Ohlin at the October 2012 bash.
"It's a long way from working in your kitchen and making sure the cat's water dish is full, which is more like what writers deal with," quipped fellow nominee Russell Wangersky.
Rabinovitch's love of literature blossomed when he studied at McGill University and graduated with an honours BA in English in 1952.
He then worked as a reporter and a speechwriter before entering the worlds of food retailing, distribution, and building and real estate development.
In 1986, he became executive vice-president of property development company Trizec Corporation and joined the board of the Princess Margaret Hospital. He was also on the Board of the MaRS (Medical and Related Science) Project.
Rabinovitch eventually became president of Nodel Investments Ltd., a real estate/venture capital firm, and became an officer of the Order of Canada in 2009.
Rabinovitch is survived by his three daughters (Noni, Daphna and Elana) and three grandchildren (Jacob, Saffi and Luca).
The funeral is to be held Wednesday.
- An earlier version of this story stated that the prize is worth $50,000 for the winner and $5,000 for each finalist. In fact, the winner receives $100,000, and each finalist receives $10,000.Aug 08, 2017 8:21 AM ET
With files from CBC News