‘Whatever I earn, I give away’
Father Albert Maroun joining Cape Breton Business and Philanthropy Hall of Fame
Father Albert Maroun is so generous that even accepting an award is a philanthropic gesture of sorts.
Maroun, a former Maronite Catholic priest and physics professor at St. Francis Xavier University and the former University College of Cape Breton, will be inducted into the Cape Breton Business and Philanthropy Hall of Fame on May 23 during a gala ceremony. But despite giving close to $500,000 to various charities over the years — including nearly $300,000 to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation — Maroun says he wouldn’t have accepted the honour if he didn’t think it would help.
“I would have turned it down if I wasn’t hopeful of inspiring other people to give to a worthy cause,” he explained. “That’s about the only way I can do it — I’m not going to go out and preach to everybody that I did this, and I did that — but if they want to use that as an inducement for other people to help out, I will do it.”
Maroun, who is a few months shy of his 86th birthday, has been giving for most of his life — something he says he learned from his father, a businessman who was always helping other people in the local Lebanese community.
“I guess it’s in my blood because my father was always good to other members of the Lebanese community, helping them get into businesses and homes and that sort of stuff,” said Maroun, who recently returned from a trip to Lebanon where he visited the village near the Syrian border where his father was born before coming to Canada. “And also he used to give credit to the people who shopped at his little convenience store. During the Depression and those times, people had no money but he used to give them credit and many times they couldn’t pay him back but he was very charitable. So that got into my system, I guess, and when I had a little money I started giving it away and the more I gave the more I got. It just turned out that way.”
While his previous occupations couldn’t allow him to give so generously, Maroun said he invested wisely and has been involved in real estate for many years, at one time owning and renting 22 apartments in the area.
He’s also lived a relatively modest lifestyle — his truck is nearly 10 years old and most of his clothes are second-hand. He even lives in the same Sydney home he and his 10 siblings were born in more 86 years ago, although he also spends part of the year on his farm in Big Pond where he grows grapes and makes his own wine.
“People need help, groups need help and so on, and I feel that I can give,” he said. “I’m not the type that likes to drive big new cars and trucks, or wear beautiful clothes all the time — I’m content with what I have. Whatever I earn, I give away. Why die with it? My relatives
don’t need money. My nieces and nephews, they all have good jobs and are working. These other people in Cape Breton, they’re struggling. The government is starting to cut back on the grants they’re giving to these people, and they’re doing such great work.”
While he’s made generous donations to many local groups over the years, including the Ally Centre and the youth club in Whitney Pier, Maroun credits his second cousin, real estate tycoon Lou Maroun (who will be inducted into the hall as a philanthropist alongside him on May 23), with turning his eye toward the hospital foundation. Several years ago, the younger Maroun, whom he calls “sort of the wealthy boy in the family,” donated $250,000 to the cancer centre, then noticed that the waiting room for the diagnostic testing needed some upgrades. After he gave the hospital more than $35,000 to have it refurbished, Maroun was inspired.
“So I said, ‘What about the emergency room where people have to wait for 10, 12 hours?’ So that was the first $50,000 I gave them, and then I did it for Glace Bay and I did it for North Sydney,” said Maroun, who has been giving about $50,000 each year to the foundation ever since. “I did it because I saw what good his donation gave and how nice it was, and that’s what spurred me on.”
Still, Maroun notes that you don’t have to write big cheques to make a big difference.
“You don’t have to have money to do good,” he said. “Between my prayers and my money I do a little good and I enjoy doing that. I enjoy helping people — I always have.”
Father Albert Maroun, who will be inducted into the Cape Breton Business and Philanthropy Hall of Fame on May 23, is seen during a recent trip to Lebanon.