GTMA honours

The Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance feted co-founder George Fierheller, a Canadian ICT veteran and tireless charity fundraiser, at a gala at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel on Thursday.

Plaudits came from friends, colleagues, politicians and national figures for “the man who can’t say no,” so-called for his willingness to take up any charitable cause put before him.

Fierhellen joined IBM Canada Co. in 1955, left to found computing services company Systems Dimensions Ltd. in 1968, then moved to Vancouver in 1979 to create Premier Cablesystems Inc. In 1980, Premier merged with Rogers Cablesystems Inc. Fierheller spearheaded the drive for cellular radio spectrum licences for what would become Rogers Cantel Inc. in 1983.

“One of the few businesses he didn’t bring to the west was the CPR,” joked Frank Scarpitti, mayor of Markham, Ont.

Markham, Fierheller’s family home, will name a street, Fierheller Way, after him, Scarpitti announced.

“Truly, I don’t know why we’re having a tribute to George,” said GTMA chair and CEO Lou Milrad, noting Fierhaeller is the author of six autobiographical books. “He does his own PR.” (The forward to one book, said Milrad, quotes Winston Churchill: “History shall be kind to me, for I shall write it.”)

Videotaped tributes came from Dr. Barry McLellan, president and CEO of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Anne Golden, president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, and Chaviva Hosek, president and CEO of the Canadian Institutefor Advanced Research, all of whom have worked with Fierheller in his charitable capacities.

Hosek called him “incedibly intellectual and very broadly curious” about everything from economics to the origins of the universe, “fearless” in pursuit of causes he believes in.

“He knows absolutely everybody and he never talks about it,” unless someone needs an introduction, she said.

Golden added a tale about Fierheller’s self-deprecatory sense of humour from when the two worked on the board of the United Way. Fierstein was at the time Rogers executive, and the company was embroiled in a very public backlash over its practice of upgrading cable customer packages, and their costs, without consulting them. At a United Way meeting, Fierhellen annonced he had an idea for increasing donations: negative-option billing.

Fawn Annan, president of IT World Canada, presented Fierhellen with the first ComputerWorld Canada IT Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement at the gala.

“I’m honoured to be so honoured,” Fierhellen said, accepting the award.

“I don’t recall hearing so many nice things said about me. So many, I thought I’d died,” he joked, before promising many more years of “The Fundraiser’s Handshake” – extended palm-up.

“We forget how lucky we are to live in a city region like this,” pointing to goegraphic and political stability, access to great agricultural land and huge bodies of fresh water, and being Canada’s centre of culture.

“We can’t take that for granted,” he said.

Fierhellen has held senior board positions with the Canadian Information Processing Society, Information Technology Association of Canada, the United Way (in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto), and numerous universities, hospitals, arts foundations and social organizations. His extensive charitable resume can be found here.

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