Toronto Star

For the love of the game

Even as he became a leader in the Canadian fashion industry, Bob Kutner never could take his eye off the ball

- BOB KUTNER TRACEY TONG SPECIAL TO THE STAR

In his adult life, he brought out the best in people.

DAUGHTER JESSICA HOROWITZ

A gem of a catcher who dazzled on Toronto’s baseball diamonds in his teenage years, Bob Kutner always dreamed of making it to the big leagues. “He was a great athlete in all sports,” says his granddaugh­ter, Jessica Horowitz, “but he just loved baseball.”

His future in the game looked bright, until the Second World War took his brother Nathan overseas, and in 1945, his father died, leaving Kutner to take care of his mother. Nathan returned to Toronto in1946 but became busy with his own family. When the Brooklyn Dodgers came calling with a contract in 1949, Kutner declined.

That wasn’t the end of baseball for Kutner — he played into his 30s and became a lifelong fan of the Toronto Blue Jays — but it did make room for a long and distinguis­hed career in the women’s clothing industry, culminatin­g in his 14-year role as president of Jones Apparel Group Canada.

Born Robert Gordon Kutner in Toronto to coat manufactur­er Charles Kutner and the former Rose Lastman, Kutner also had a sister, Sarah. He attended Dewson Street Junior Public School and Central Commerce Collegiate Institute.

His first job was selling men’s coats at Simpsons department store. He also worked as a travelling wedding-dress salesperso­n and for such clothing companies as Dylex, Irving Posluns and Highland Queen, before joining Jones in 1983.

“It was a very exciting time for retail and women’s apparel,” says Kutner’s daughter, Renee Horowitz. “Everyone needed Jones Apparel Group in their store. Jones Sport was also big. Business was booming.

“I was lucky enough to work with my dad at Jones,” she continues. “I would get to go to the showrooms and travel to Montreal and New York with him. It was an amazing experience.”

Horowitz points out that her father had a great way with people. “He knew what would sell,” she says. “On weekends, he would visit the stores and talk to salespeopl­e. (They) trusted his knowledge of the business.”

As much as Kutner was a successful businessma­n, he always put family first. After his father died, “he was happy to take care of his mother,” Jessica says. “That was his number one priority.”

When Kutner started his own family — in 1962, he married fashion model Andree Grenier, whom he had met at Pearson Internatio­nal Airport — that continued to be the case. He was a devoted father, taking children Charles (born in 1963) and Renee (1965) to the theatre, sporting events and restaurant­s.

Kutner later became grandfathe­r to Jessica, Matthew, Jamie, Harrison and Chloe. He always had time for them, whether it was watching them play sports or taking them to Florida and to baseball games.

The spring and summer were, naturally, all about baseball. “The best moment was when (the Blue Jays) came to Toronto,” Charles says. “He was waiting for major league baseball in Toronto his whole life.”

A season ticket holder since the Blue Jays’ first game on the Exhibition Place grounds on April 7, 1977, the Kutner family still has two of the best seats at the Rogers Centre, Charles says — in the first row behind the visiting team’s dugout.

Kutner cultivated a unique relationsh­ip with a number of the umpires, players, announcers and ball boys back at Exhibition Stadium, according to Charles. “It was like family when we went there,” he remembers. “Some of the players would come to our house for dinner. They loved Bob for his positivity and extensive knowledge of the game.”

Over 47 years, Kutner attended more than 2,000 Blue Jays games — an average of 50 per year — including the World Series. “Even in the ‘bad’ years,” Charles says, “he enjoyed the games just as much. It was about the game — watching the young players and seeing them develop.”

In his late 80s, when he could barely walk, Kutner would still show up at the Rogers Centre an hour and a half early to watch batting practice. “He loved being in the ballpark,” Charles says. “The passion never went away.”

At a game five years ago, Kutner, recognized as a long-standing fan, had the honour of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

When Kutner retired from Jones Apparel Group in 1997, it was one of the largest fashion chains in Canada. His success spurred him to share his knowledge with others. “He had numerous employees and customers who would come to him for advice,” says Jessica. “They would ask him for advice up until he passed away.”

Kutner’s retirement party at the Royal York Hotel was a veritable who’s who of fashion, with more than 500 attendees from all over the world.

According to his granddaugh­ter, he will be remembered not only for his contributi­on to the fashion world, but for the impact he made throughout his life. “In his youth, it was for his athletic prowess,” Jessica says. “In his adult life, he brought out the best in people.”

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