Recently, we had to say goodbye to Tony Coombes and Betsy Martin. Their passing leaves a great hole in Canada’s innovative and committed nation building communities. We remember them for who they were, the work they did, the inspiration they provided and the legacy they leave us.
Tony Coombes died June 10. An architect and planner, Tony was the founding executive director of The Neptis Foundation. Neptis was founded by Martha Shuttleworth, Tony’s former wife, with the objective to combat sprawl and support sustainable growth in urban regions.
Tony realized that no effective planning was possible without a comprehensive understanding of the natural and built inventory. He knew that in the Toronto region particularly, there was insufficient mapping of that inventory, and one of the great projects of Neptis was to produce it. With his long experience, Tony knew what was needed, and Neptis made it happen.
Without this fundamental platform, Ontario would not have been able to produce Places to Grow, The Greenbelt legislation, and Metrolinx, the regional transportation plan. Together, they form a triumvirate that exists in few other regions of the world, and which will create benefits for generations to come.
Neptis stands as one of the great pieces of Canadian philanthropy, and Tony was a principal architect of that.
Tony was a friend of Maytree, and its sister organization The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.
Betsy Martin died June 4. She had long professional associations with Community Foundations of Canada and various individual community foundations in Canada. In that capacity, she was instrumental in developing many key programs and activities as the community foundation movement grew and matured.
One such program was Vital Signs, now a signature for community foundations in Canada and elsewhere. Vital Signs was developed jointly by the Laidlaw Foundation along with Maytree and its sister organization Ideas That Matter (ITM). It is an indicators project that charts the health of communities on a range of issues. Laidlaw, Maytree and ITM knew they were not likely the ideal long-term home for Vital Signs, but that community foundations were.
Betsy clearly saw it as well, and because of her excellent relationships and skills was able to usher Vital Signs into the Toronto Community Foundation and into the wider community foundation network. As those reports come out annually in communities across Canada, we can pause for a moment and thank Betsy for being the vital link.