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York mourns the loss of visionary philanthropist Helen Vari

York mourns the loss of visionary philanthropist Helen Vari

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York mourns the loss of visionary philanthropist Helen Vari

The York University community is mourning the loss of Helen Vari, whose many contributions to the University had transformational impact. A visionary philanthropist dedicated to supporting students, Vari and her husband George William Vari, PC CM (August 14, 1923 – December 9, 2010) created an outstanding record of philanthropic activity. Among countless charitable contributions spanning decades, their passion for education and research led them to become patrons of some of Toronto’s greatest institutions. 

“It is with great sadness that I share the news of the loss of philanthropist Helen Vari,” says York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “On behalf of York University, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the many friends, family and supporters of Helen. She was a dear friend and will be greatly missed.

“Helen and her late husband George were passionate supporters of York and of higher education institutions across Canada. Their contributions have made a profound and lasting impact at York University and have played a significant role in enhancing the learning environment for York’s diverse body of students. They have been pivotal in York’s success as a leading international teaching and research university.”

Helen helped bring to fruition several building projects – among them Vari Hall, the nucleus of the Keele Campus – for the University.

Often referred to as the “front door” of the University, Vari Hall is an iconic building at the heart of Keele Campus. Home to several lecture halls and other spaces, its three-storey rotunda has become the main gathering place on campus, a busy hub bringing community members together. 

Helen received an Honorary Doctorate from York in 2003, where she gave her perspective as one of the University’s longest-serving board members. “I always emphasized, and it is the philosophy of the board, that…in essence, all the intellectual and material riches of York University should serve only one purpose: the interest and well-being of our students, to make their life richer intellectually, and to provide the best possible learning, recreational and living conditions for our students.”

A long serving, distinguished member of York’s Board of Governors, Vari was first appointed in 1990 and served until 2002, at which point she was made an Honorary Governor. She also served on the boards of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, Canada Council, Canadian Scene, The Council for Canadian Unity, Canada House at the Université de Paris, and the World Monuments Fund. A Member of the Order of Canada, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003.

Dedicated to supporting students, the Varis also established numerous student awards at York, including: the Helen Vari Award in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, given in recognition of outstanding creative or scholarly achievement and overall academic excellence to a third- or fourth-year film and video student; the Helen Vari Award for Excellence and Good Citizenship, recognizing a graduating student in the Faculty of Arts for their outstanding academic achievement and community service; and the George and Helen Vari Foundation Entrance Award (Environmental Studies), supporting graduate students entering their first year of the Master in Environmental Studies program at York. 

The York University community will be forever grateful to the legacy that Helen and George Vari have left at York.