Brian Smith, who for 36-years served as the president and CEO of WoodGreen (WG) Community Services, will be leaving behind a lasting legacy when he officially retires on December 31.
Smith’s unwavering dedication to eradicate poverty and provide marginalized individuals and families safe and affordable places to live will be forever honoured with Brian’s Fund to End Homelessness.
The fund was launched on Wednesday, Dec. 3 during his emotional retirement celebration at Whistler’s Pub.
“We’re here tonight to pay tribute to an extraordinary individual,” said Smith’s close friend and colleague Gordon Cressy, who served as the evening’s master of ceremonies.
“Tonight is a night for all of us, in our own way, to say thank you.”
The evening of stories, songs and speeches kicked off with a few words from Jasmine Tehara, WoodGreen’s chair of the board of directors.
In her remarks, Tehara said Smith is someone who has worked tirelessly to advocate for the vulnerable and find solutions to some of the city’s most complex problems.
Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher, along with Ward 29 Councillor Mary Fragedakis and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, presented a scroll to Smith on behalf of Mayor John Tory at the event.
“You’re a magnificent and wonderful man. Thank you for everything you’ve done for WoodGreen and the east end of Toronto,” Fletcher said, pointing to the room full of people who had gathered to honour Smith.
“It’s a very powerful group of people here to recognize your contributions. … That’s a testament to your leadership, Brian.”
Fletcher said Smith, a native of the Beach who has lived in the city’s north end for a number of years, knows the community like the back of his hand and has had his hand in countless local initiatives, notably the effort to save Bruce Junior Public School from closure and the transformation of Riverside’s New Edwin Hotel into First Step to Home, a residence for homeless and street-involved men.
TD Bank Financial’s former president and CEO Ed Clark, who with his wife Fran and several private donors was instrumental in making the new First Step to Home facility a reality, also shared a few words at Smith’s retirement celebration.
“This is a pretty tough evening for (Smith) but this is a great evening for him,” he said, pointing to the many traits of a great leader Smith possesses including vision, ability to go down to the details, innovation, team building, deep care for the welfare of others, and integrity to name a few.
“Thousands of people can say Brian made a difference in their lives,” said Clark, who also announced that WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound residence in East York will be renamed the Brian Smith Centre for Opportunity.
The innovative program, which Smith spearheaded, provides a range of services to help inadequately housed or homeless mother-led families earn college diplomas, start careers and achieve economic self-sufficiency.
“What an evening this has been,” Smith said as the party drew to a close.
Not quite sure where to begin, he started off by saying all of the things he’s been able to accomplish at WoodGreen have happened because of the support of his family, most of whom are women as his father was killed in the Second World War.
Smith especially thanked his mother for devoting her life to him and ensuring he received every possible opportunity in life.
“Those who much is given, much is expected,” he said before thanking his partner, Maureen, for her unconditional support and love over the years.
Smith, who prior to working at WoodGreen was a social worker for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society then the executive director of St. Stephen’s Community House, said his main goal when he started at WG was to bring resources to the community.
In the end, he succeeded in helping bring resources to many areas of the city, which in turn, has helped build supportive neighbourhoods.
“My time at WoodGreen has been such joy,” Smith said, admitting he’d have done the job no matter what he was paid.
“It’s just been a fantastic group of individuals to know. … None of this would have been possible without the great work and support of the people who have touched my life over the years.”
Regardless of his retirement from WoodGreen, Smith said he’d continue to work to end poverty and homelessness, and help people with modest incomes secure quality, affordable housing.