An unerringly ethical, hard-working tour de force, Michael was a man of classical values with deep and wide-ranging talents and interests; he set the standard toward which we all should strive.
I first met Michael in ’95, when I was hired to work at Greenfield Books; for the next 22 years, he was a mentor to me, and a loyal and true friend and ally.
One of my first memories of Michael is of the day he called me in to his office, after about a week of employment. I went in, nervously, and stood at attention in front of his desk. He leaned back in his chair, and asked me: “what is your position on government funding for the arts?” I don’t think I said much, THAT day, but over the years we had countless spirited debates. Michael’s intellect was staggering; he was never short of an educated opinion on any subject, one of which concerned the lunches I would bring to work, which he called “odiferous”.
Shortly after I started working for him, Michael moved Greenfield Books to it’s first Academy Road location: one of many times I would be enlisted to move a bookstore. The two of us did most of the work, spending weeks at either end of bookcases that were going up and down staircases, carrying box after box of books, back-and-forth in his truck. I learned that Michael’s work ethic was staggering: he worked six or seven days a week, plus evenings, never shrinking away from schlepping a box or bookcase, never complaining. He expected a lot of his employees; and I once chided him for not handing out enough praise. He said he praised his employees every two weeks when he signed their paycheques. But that wasn’t the whole truth. He offered up his guidance, loyalty, and respect (though inconspicuously so as not to be caught at it).
I remember one day in the 90s, going in to work with a newly-shaven head. Michael came out of his office, took one look, turned on a dime and went back in, uncharacteristically mute. His elocution was one of the most astonishing things about Michael – his speech was grammatically perfect, as if he’d previously written and edited every word, the effect of which was to add even more gravitas to everything he had to say.
He was also a pragmatist, evidenced not least by his wardrobe choices. I teased him about his collection of blue sweatshirts, and the veritable toolkit he carried on his belt – but more than once I went to him, tail between legs, to borrow a knife to open a box, and he would hand it over with gleeful mirth in his eyes, right again.
But despite the earnestness of many of his traits, which made him at times seem beyond reproach, and could be intimidating, Michael had a heart of gold. He was flawlessly honest, had a good sense of humour, though little time for sarcasm; he loved music — I remember him blaring Jimmy Buffet, dancing and air-drumming in the shop. He would be the first to visit a new bookstore, offer unsolicited advice to the proprietor, and ALWAYS buy a book; faithfully check up on colleagues and friends who were unwell; he encouraged and nurtured new collectors, and was always willing to consult on the value of a book.
Michael was foremost concerned about and protective of Caroline, Erin & Ross, and Ethan & Heather, and their families. He was vociferous in his opposition to nepotism – but he couldn’t help himself – both of his kids worked, here and there, at his bookstores, because he believed in them, and was proud of their abilities.
Once you became a friend, Michael would move mountains for you: in addition to the steady stream of business advice and encouragement, he has advised me – and friends of mine – on legal matters, sometimes at length but never begrudgingly; he has offered me financial assistance, no small amount of counselling, and has even offered Caroline’s babysitting services. He taught me most of what I know about books and business, and encouraged me to continually evolve my business model – even after I became a direct competitor. At our last meeting, about a month ago, I sat, as always, in the uncomfortable wooden side chair in his office, and he, slightly reclined in his chair, spine straight, surrounded by his reference books, the paper coaster for his coffee mug, his antiquated software program glowing on the screen; he wanted to know all about my recent trip to the NY book fair. As I spoke he listened intently, with, I think, pride, and then he pressed me to commit to attending the Toronto book fair this fall: he wanted nominate me to join the board of the ABAC at their annual meeting. I told him I would join, that I wanted to be on the board while he was president so that we could consult and he could buffer my learning curve as he always had, inconspicuously.
Michael’s presence loomed large. He was a fixture in the trade and in my life; I took for granted that he would always be there, “unchanged”; guiding the way.
William Johnson Cory, 1823-1892
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.