Martin Prosserman: Underdog. Patriarch. Entrepreneur. Mensch. Born Oct. 24, 1931, in Montreal; died April 6, 2019, in Delray Beach, Fla., from the effects of muscular neuropathy disease, aged 87.
When Ann and Yitzchak Prosterman emigrated from Ukraine in 1917 and signed citizen papers in Canada, they forgot to cross the T. So, their son Martin, born in Montreal, became the first Prosserman. When Martin was one, the family moved to Toronto looking for work. It was the Depression, so he grew up barefoot and hungry on Augusta Avenue.
Martin’s father abandoned his family. So, at 8 years old, when Martin’s aunt and uncle visited from Montreal, he got a lift back and lived with them. His mother and sister Frances followed six months later. He went to Baron Byng High School, and became class president.
As a 9-year-old kid, Martin learned life lessons working in a clothing store to support his family. His associates wanted him to fail, but he refused to give them the satisfaction. This fuelled his drive to never give up.
Martin opened his first clothing store when he was 19, Vêtement Morris, in Montreal on rue Sainte-Catherine. He believed you only have one chance to make a first impression. So, he wore a suit every day. Manufacturers said he was an honest kid, so they gave him inventory to sell. He ran that store for 10 years, and eventually, with a new partner, started a discount manufacturing company Golden Brand Clothing.
At 15, Martin met Ellen Litner and they became high-school sweethearts. They had amazing chemistry; she was the Cinderella to his bulldog. Life took them in different directions. When they met again at 25 at the Montreal YMHA, they both broke off engagements and got married. Three sons would follow. And, no matter how busy Martin was at work, he would make time every weekend to drive his family up to their Laurentians family cottage.
He had a dream of building a vertically integrated company that made and sold garments. In 1976, he bought a factory in Montreal. Then, in 1980, Martin started the Canadian company that put him on the map: Moores the Suit People.
He believed you’re only as strong as your weakest link and he chose to work with his three strongest: his sons. Gary, Ron and Brian joined their father to build the family business.
When Moores had 20 stores, Martin liked to talk about how Sears asked him not to open any more. Martin didn’t think failure, he always transformed his misfortune into good fortune. Within two years, he had 45. In 1999, at 67 years old, with 98 stores, over 2,000 employees and over 20 per cent Canadian market share, Martin sold the business.
After selling the business, Martin moved to Toronto. He continued donating to charity and started a private investment company with a name that hearkened back to his roots – Augusta Holding.
He acted tough in business, but underneath, was a compassionate man. His happiest years were in high school and his last few with Ellen. They were happily married for 46 years until she died in 2002.
Martin felt very fortunate to be Canadian. He believed his family was his greatest achievement. In his last weeks, Martin met his first great-grandchild, Max. They have the same blue eyes.
My grandpa told me if he ever came back in this world, he would do it all the same way. He always said, you have to dance the way the music plays. He taught me that you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. Martin made our family name. On my last visit, he said it’s time for the next generation to run with it now.
Martin was the first Prosserman. He left behind nearly 20.
Jeffrey Prosserman is Martin’s first grandson.
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