Marilyn Lastman’s husband Mel was Toronto’s first “mega-mayor,” but she captivated the city as colourfully as he did.
Marilyn Lastman’s mysterious kidnapping riveted Toronto in 1973 — a case never solved; she was an entrepreneur who aggressively fought the province over her selling speed-trap detecting “Fuzzbusters” in the late ’70s; the theft of her $7,000 white mink coat from a parked, chauffeur-driven car made headlines in the mid-’80s. She was also a dedicated fundraiser for charities, a devoted mother to two sons, had a rich sense of humour and was always candid about loving her wealthy, happy life.
“We’re proof that the great American dream is alive and living in North York and I’m not ashamed,” Lastman said in a 1988 Star profile. Then, the stylish woman added, cheekily: “There are no skeletons in my closet — there are too many clothes.”
Marilyn Lastman, a great-grandmother who married her high-school sweetheart, Mel, at age 18, died Wednesday night after a three-week illness. She was 84.
“We lost a good one,” said her son Blayne.
“But you know what? She had the best life in the world and she appreciated every single person who was in it,” continued Blayne, who runs the Bad Boy furniture and appliance empire his dad launched in 1955.
“She met the Queen, she met the Pope, she appreciated every day, she travelled the world and we were so lucky to have had her (until) the age of 84.”
The Lastmans’ other son is Dale, a Toronto-based corporate lawyer.
Mel and Marilyn Lastman’s six-decade love story included chapters that, through their political lives, shaped Toronto.
Mel was the enormously popular mayor of North York from 1972 to 1997. When amalgamation blended surrounding independent boroughs with the old city of Toronto, Mel Lastman was elected the first mayor of the massive new Toronto in 1997. He served until 2003.
Paul Godfrey, a longtime friend and former political colleague, said Mel Lastman’s successful mayoralty run as the first “mega-mayor” of Toronto was only possible with Marilyn’s encouragement and political savvy.
“She was a rock-solid supporter of Mel, through good times, not-so-good (political) times,” said Godfrey, a former Metro Toronto chairman.
“Mel was a great mayor of Toronto but when others thought maybe it was time for him to retire (in 1998), Marilyn insisted, no, he had more to offer,” continued Godfrey, the chair of Postmedia Network.
“Mel relied on her wisdom, her strength (and) when he was down, she brought him back up again.”
The Jan. 15, 1973, kidnapping was not an event the Lastmans discussed often, but Marilyn did open up to Toronto Star reporter Warren Gerard in 1998.
She describes being tricked into leaving the family home by someone posing as her husband’s chauffeur, being blindfolded, and driven away. She was missing for about 10 hours before returning home. Questions remain about the bizarre abduction but Marilyn, who took and passed a lie-detector test, told Gerard she resents people who believe she made up the kidnapping story.
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Another controversy involved an alleged shoplifting incident when, in April of 1999, Marilyn Lastman was arrested at a Vaughan mall Eaton’s, accused of stealing a pair of designer pants. She was not charged “due to her age as well as no outstanding offences on her record,” according to a York Region police report. The matter became public knowledge when Mel Lastman, then mayor of Toronto, confronted a journalist who had not yet reported the story.
Godfrey, when asked about how Marilyn Lastman handled touchy moments, like the kidnapping, that made the news, described her as a strong, capable woman who “battled through her own controversies.”
“Marilyn had her own life. She was a personality by herself,” he said. “That’s why I call them the Dynamic Duo because there was a dynamic built into their DNA that suited both of them.”
Blayne Lastman said his mother was his father’s strongest supporter — a partnership that led Blayne to share a fond family joke.
“This is going to sound funny to you but she was the 51 per cent mayor from the years 1972 until the year 2003. And for my father, maybe we’ll give him 49 per cent.”
Blayne Lastman said when his father retired from politics in 2003, he witnessed his parents’ love for each other growing deeper.
“I’ve never seen my parents more in love than they were over the last 17 years,” he said. “And to see that, we’re blessed.”
Mayor John Tory paid tribute to Lastman with a statement Thursday:
“Marilyn Lastman’s story is a wonderful story of family. Through every chapter, she was always as devoted to Mel as he was to her and together they raised a wonderful family of accomplishment and generosity,” Tory said.
“Marilyn Lastman will be greatly missed by many and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”
Over the last three weeks, Blayne Lastman said his mother battled a “terrible infection” that ended her life.
“What happens when you get to the age when God’s ready, your organs start not functioning and that’s what happened to my mother,” he said of her hospitalization.
“Her kidneys, her lungs, her liver were breaking down over the last three weeks but never did she not look as beautiful as she was.”
Marilyn Lastman’s funeral is Sunday, 2 p.m., at Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, 2401 Steeles Ave. W.