To many Torontonians, David Pecaut was a visionary city-builder. To his widow and longtime business associate Helen Burstyn he was far more than that.
Burstyn’s recently-released book, Eleven Out of Ten: The Life and Work of David Pecaut shows a side of the man few had a chance to see.
The book covers Pecaut’s life from both business and personal standpoints, offering insights into what made him such a strong force for positive change without glossing over his quirkier side.
“It was really important to me to talk about all parts of his life and work,” she said. “He had an interesting work life and family life, so this book is as much about that as it is about the work that claimed so much attention.”
Pecaut was born in Sioux City, Iowa and came to Canada with ambition and little else. From there, he parlayed his skills and education into a career in consulting before embarking on a wide variety of plans to improve the city and make it more open and accessible to all.
Burstyn first met Pecaut when she was working with the Ontario government and he was working for a consulting firm tasked with studying the province’s budget. Her first impression hardly served as a harbinger of the life they would wind up sharing.
“In the beginning, I refused to work with him,” she said. “He was so dismissive of my degree in English. Little did I know he’d never taken a business course in his life.”
Burstyn eventually overcame those misgivings and wound up forging a working relationship that eventually moved into the personal arena.
She details many of Pecaut’s greatest accomplishments and some of his failures in the book which, because of how deeply their lives intertwined, reads more as a memoir than a biography.
“I wanted there to be a balance and show that he didn’t always succeed,” she said. “I wanted him to be human and not perfect.”
Burstyn consulted with several others to get a fuller picture of the various facets of Pecaut’s life beyond his well-known roles chairing the Toronto City Summit Alliance, helping to create the Luminato festival and other varied successes.
Still, the primary voice is her own, which was important given how many Torontonians have almost claimed Pecaut for themselves.
“This was my way of claiming the high ground and the personal ground,” she said. “I have the authority because we worked together and lived together.”
Even so, the author went through many edits for accuracy and to ensure the stories she told would not offend anyone. She also had to edit an early draft to change the book’s tone.
“At first, it probably sounded a little angry; you can be angry with someone for dying,” she said. “I always intended it to be light-hearted. It’s a sad story the way it ended, but I wanted to tell the quirky, funny parts of his life.”
While the book has been published, Burstyn is still looking for anecdotes about her husband, which she is collecting at www.elevenoutoften.com
Burstyn still calls south Rosedale her home after moving in there with Pecaut some 25 years ago, and she and her family have been highly involved in the community since they moved in.
“My kids went to Rosedale Public School and were in the Rosedale Steel Pan Orchestra,” she said. “David was really reluctant to move in at first – he said “Rosedale? That sounds pretty stuffy” – but we were really involved in the community centre, the school and the neighbourhood.”
Eleven Out of Ten: The Life and Work of David Pecaut, was launched recently and is now available via major book retailers in both hard copy and e-book form.