A Tribute to Tom and Mary Beck
When Tom and Mary Beck arrived in Toronto in the early 1950s, they each brought with them a love of classical music. Like many immigrants from Europe who helped swell the city’s population to more than one million in the booming post-war years, they likely experienced some culture shock from landing in a new country. At the time, Toronto had yet to open its first subway line, or boast downtown landmarks like the CN Tower or Eaton Centre. What Toronto did have, however, was a symphony orchestra.
“[Tom and Mary Beck] loved the music of the Toronto Symphony passionately.”
To the Hungarian-born couple, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was more than just a place to hear their favourite classical music—it provided a connection to the culture of the places they’d left behind. For Tom and Mary Beck, attending the TSO helped make their new city feel like home. And for the rest of their lives, through their enthusiastic and generous support, they would help to ensure the symphony remains a vibrant and accessible experience for others.
The announcement of a $10-million gift from the Estate of H. Thomas and Mary Beck brings the lifetime giving of the Beck family to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to over $20 million. It is a truly remarkable gift—the largest the TSO has ever received—from a truly remarkable family.
“Tom and Mary Beck were the kind of friends and supporters that every arts organization dreams of,” says Sir Andrew Davis, the TSO’s Interim Artistic Director. “They loved the music of the Toronto Symphony passionately and believed that what it gave and continues to give to Toronto and the world is no mere luxury but rather a vital part of the fabric of life.”
H. Thomas Beck arrived in Canada in 1950 from England, where he was educated in his teens and graduated as a High Voltage Electrical Engineer. It was there, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, that he discovered symphonic music. “I stood in line for an hour to get in on the cheap tickets, then had to stand for the two-hour concert. But it was worth every minute,” he told the Toronto Star in 2008. Mary immigrated to Canada in 1952 from the musical hub of Vienna. The pair met at an informal gathering within Toronto’s tight knit Hungarian immigrant community. “Apparently our father didn’t talk very much but he did ask our mother to go skiing. This was in August,” recounts daughter Cathy Beck. “I once asked her, ‘What made you say yes?’ She told me, ‘Nobody ever said anything like that to me. It intrigued me.’” For Tom’s part, it was love at first sight. Daughter Liddy Beck adds, “He was smitten and he never, never stopped. It was a true partnership.”
“They valued people. Our mom loved talking to the musicians. It was about the community.”
The couple wed in 1954 and had three children, Anthony, Liddy, and Cathy. At first, Tom and Mary attended Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts (back then hosted at the historic Massey Hall) as time and finances would allow. The symphony performances became part of the rhythm of their lives in the city, along with raising their family and building their business. Tom bought a small business with his mother, which grew into a successful multi-national electrical manufacturing company and became known as NOMA Industries Limited—a name now synonymous for many Canadians with holiday-season lights. With the passion of trailblazers, and a generosity of spirit, they both worked hard to participate fully in civic life. Supporting the symphony with financial gifts as well as their regular patronage became a way to give back to their community.
“I think they wanted to bring something from Europe to here,” says Anthony Beck, of his parents’ motivations in philanthropy. His sister Liddy continues, “A strong symphony generates music that transcends languages—this was important to our parents. Symphonies can have a positive impact on cities in a variety of ways, not only economically through job creation and tourism, but they can also have a positive influence on one’s mental health. I think our parents thought, ‘Let’s make it more accessible, make it part of everyone’s life.’”
Subscribers to the TSO for more than 60 years, Tom and Mary were also founding members of the Music Director’s Circle. Tom served as a Board member for 22 years, and as Chair in the early 80s. In 2008, Tom and Mary endowed the Concertmaster’s Chair, now held by Jonathan Crow. Due to their generous personalities as much as their philanthropy, the couple became well known to individual members of the Orchestra, who respected and loved them as their champions. “They were interested in people,” recalls Liddy Beck. “They valued people. Our mom loved talking to the musicians. It was about the community.” The Becks accompanied the Orchestra on several tours, including one to the Arctic, and welcomed musicians into their home and their lives.
Peter Oundjian, the TSO’s Conductor Emeritus, knew Tom and Mary Beck well. “I feel extremely fortunate to have had the honour and enormous pleasure of their friendship,” he says. “At the very beginning of my tenure, Tom invited me to have tea with him. It set the tone for what would be the most supportive relationship a music director could ever wish for. Mary greeted me with her extraordinary warmth and charm. That first impression was powerful; charisma, wit, and confidence emanated from the sparkle in her eyes. As I later discovered, Mary was a compelling storyteller and there was no shortage of tales from the old days. Tom could lift anyone’s spirits just by looking at you with that unique expression of optimism; I always see him in my mind with a smile on his face. As we talked, I quickly realized that the Becks were a true and utterly loyal ally. They loved and valued the TSO more than words can express. My profound gratitude to them and to the whole Beck family is shared by every single person connected to the Orchestra.”
“They bowed to convention as required, but in the core of their being burned love for family, life, and art.”
Sir Andrew Davis echoes the sentiment: “I am fortunate to have enjoyed many happy occasions in their company at their home, as well as at Orchestra functions and on the road. Conversation was always lively on a wide range of topics, and both of them possessed a delightful sense of humour. Tom used to crack me up at times. I remember him coming into my dressing room after a performance at the moment when I was in a somewhat embarrassing state of undress. He didn’t bat an eyelid and we had a splendid conversation as though it was the most normal thing in the world! In a way, that represented them both; they bowed to convention as required, but in the core of their being burned love for family, life, and art.”
In March of 2016, Tom Beck passed away, at the age of 89; Mary died in August of 2018, aged 83. Their passion for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra lives on in their children and grandchildren, and in their chosen home city. In 2016, Cathy Beck joined the TSO Board of Directors as Chair. She and the entire Beck family are proud to announce this most recent gift on behalf of the Estate of H. Thomas and Mary Beck, which is presented as the TSO prepares to welcome its new Music Director, Gustavo Gimeno, and celebrate its 100th Anniversary Season in 2022.
“Tom and Mary Beck have left an incredible legacy. Their leadership and years of service and support made a difference in the life of our city. We are deeply grateful for this gift, which will help bring orchestral music to the next generation,” says CEO Matthew Loden.
Tom and Mary Beck’s extraordinary relationship with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will continue to resonate for years to come. We have all benefitted from their unwavering commitment to the TSO and its vital place in our lives. Tom and Mary Beck were proud of their chosen home and their ability to play a part in ensuring it would be a vibrant place well into the future. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is proud to honour them for their years of friendship and generosity.
The TSO extends its profound thanks to the Beck family. This historic $10-million gift from the Estate of H. Thomas and Mary Beck has an impact that is immediate and lasting. In accordance with the wishes of the estate, the gift has been directed toward the support of key artistic initiatives over the coming years, as well as important financial objectives including the reduction of the accumulated deficit and growing the Toronto Symphony Foundation endowment. This gift comes as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra enters a new chapter—welcoming Gustavo Gimeno in his first season as Music Director in the Fall of 2020, then celebrating its 100th season the following year. Motivated by a deep desire to share the joy that music brought to them, their wish was to inspire others and have their support help build a passionate and growing community of music lovers around the Orchestra. The Becks’ support ensures continued bold artistic programming in the coming seasons, as well as investments in education, community engagement, and audience development, which are vital to the mission of the TSO.
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