Farewell to a friend

Marvin Ca­plan was big and bright and loud, and his ties were as bold as his opin­ions

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Paul Benedetti is a former Spectator re­porter. He lives in Hamilton. PAUL BENEDETTI

Now, when the phone rings at night, I flinch at lit­tle. It’s usu­ally not a good thing. I an­swered and it was my friend Wade on the line. I could tell by his voice that some­thing was wrong.

“I have some sad news,” he said. “One of our good friends has died. It’s Marvin.” Marvin Ca­plan. I was not sur­prised — Marvin had had health trou­bles over the years — but I was shocked as you al­ways are, to hear the words. Heart at­tack. He was 75. We talked, rem­i­nisced about our friend and then, when there wasn’t much more to say, we signed off.

Over the next few days I found my­self think­ing about Marvin. I had known him a long time — more than 30 years. I had in­ter­viewed him as a cloth­ier — the owner of Marvin Ca­plan’s Gen­tle­man’s Ap­parel, then as a so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist, and fi­nally as a mem­ber of city coun­cil for three terms. Over those years, I had come to know him, to re­spect him and to even­tu­ally, I’m happy to say, be­come his friend.

Here’s the thing about Marvin: you ei­ther liked him or you didn’t. There wasn’t much in the mid­dle. And you knew whether you liked him or not right away. I did. He was very smart and brash and some- times bawdy. He made me laugh. He was also kind and gen­er­ous, a nat­u­ral teacher who spent count­less hours talk­ing to me about fash­ion and re­tail­ing, sub­jects in which he was an ex­pert. He had trained un­der his men­tor Harry Rosen, and in Hamilton, at least, he had bested him, his store out­last­ing Rosen’s short-lived foray into the city.

Back then, I was young with tastes far beyond my pay­cheque, and when I shopped at his store (usu­ally on sale) Marvin al­ways treated me like I was his best cus­tomer.

He was a whirl­wind in the shop and the best ad­ver­tise­ment for his own clothes. He was usu­ally dressed in a cus­tom, dou­ble­breasted suit, with a colour­ful tie and strik­ing pocket square, a tai­lor ’s tape mea­sure draped around his neck. He was a big man and al­ways seemed to be push­ing the ca­pac­ity of his clothes, his suit pock­ets bulging with his glasses and wal­let and pens and (some­times) can­dies. Out­side the shop, it was Marvin who would show up at an event in a mint green sports jacket or a striped Bri­tish boat­ing blazer. His clothes re­flected his na­ture. He was big and bright and loud, and his ties were as bold as his opin­ions and you could like them or not like them, but you couldn’t ig­nore them.

Though he was pas­sion­ate about re­tail, he was more pas­sion­ate about the city and most pas­sion­ate about his wife Judi and their re­mark­able four boys. And his faith. It was Marvin who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ex­plained Jewish cus­toms and hol­i­days to me, invit­ing me to his back­yard and my first Suc­coth, care­fully tak­ing the time to school a Catholic boy in the rich tra­di­tions of Ju­daism. Marvin, al­ways proud, al­ways the teacher.

And like most men who are big­ger than life, he was not with­out his flaws, and he knew it. His reach some­times ex­ceeded his grasp. And though he was wise enough to seek coun­sel from his friends, he was not al­ways wise enough to take it. He called me on two oc­ca­sions to ask my ad­vice, which I felt flat­tered to give. And, on both oc­ca­sions, he ig­nored it. That was Marvin.

He blus­tered and boasted, to be sure, but he was thought­ful and kind. A man with a large heart. One day at his fa­mous Box­ing Day Sale, I picked up a shirt I liked and showed it to him. “You don’t want that shirt,” he said, tak­ing it from me and throw­ing it back on the ta­ble. A while later, I asked him again. “Trust me,” he said. “Don’t buy that shirt.” I didn’t. A week later, I un­wrapped a birth­day present from my wife — the very same shirt — and I smiled. She had bought it be­fore the big sale and he had re­mem­bered. That was Marvin, too. The last time I saw him, he was danc­ing with some chil­dren at the bar mitz­vah, red­faced and sweating, whirling them around, laugh­ing, liv­ing with gusto and joy and love.

I will miss him.

Marvin Ca­plan

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