The City of Markham has been Delores Lawrence’s home for the past 34 years even though she was once threatened with legal action for running a business out of her residence.
She ran Nursing & Homemakers Inc. (NHI), which provides health care services to hospitals, nursing, retirement and private homes, out of her home for two years in the mid-1980s until a city inspector showed up at her door with a notice that she was violating the residential bylaws.
Employees turning up at her home on Fridays to collect their paycheques meant there was a steady stream of cars and activity on her street. This obviously did not sit well with her neighbours who brought it to the city’s attention.
“I guess I broke the rules,” said Lawrence who was forced to find office space in Scarborough. “But I was just trying to get my feet off the ground.”
Accredited by the Canadian Council of Health Services, NHI is a multi-time winner of the Consumer Choice Award for Business Excellence. The company, which also has offices in downtown Toronto and Ajax, employs some 1,900 staff of which about 300 are full-time and has annual revenues of around $100 million.
In addition to running a successful business, Lawrence has donated thousands of dollars to community organizations and charities.
Last week, Markham recognized Lawrence for entrepreneurial brilliance and philanthropy with a Black History Month Award.
The city collaborated with the Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association (MACCA), York Region District School Board and Markham’s Race Relations Committee to recognize distinguished Black Canadians, who have made significant contributions to Markham which is one of North America’s fastest growing cities.
“I enjoy living in this city and I have been a supporter of the Mayor (Frank Scarpitti) for many years,” said Lawrence who is a member of the Order of Ontario. “When I came here, this city was very small and everyone knew one another. It’s amazing to see the growth in the past few years but one thing has remained constant and that is Markham is still very people oriented.”
Lawrence was introduced to business at an early age by her mother who owned a supermarket in Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s north coast. She accompanied her mom to business meetings with bank managers and grasped an understanding of the importance of presenting a professionally crafted plan that addressed bank’s concerns as to how loans would be repaid.
By the time Lawrence was set to launch NHI in 1985 after graduating from the University of Toronto with a nursing degree and the University of New Hampshire with a Master’s in Business Administration, she was confident she had the knowledge, skills and collateral to secure a bank loan.
It wasn’t that easy as she soon found out.
Seeking a $25,000 line of credit, the bank offered to lend her just $5,000 – they demanded her husband co-sign for the amount – even though she had over $100,000 in home equity and $5,000 in Canada Savings Bonds.
Despite the hurdles, Lawrence persevered and has emerged as one of Toronto’s prominent and respected citizens.
Awards were also presented to York University professor and Royal Society of Canada Fellow Dr. Carl James, MACCA director and treasurer Michael Pinnock and journalist Ron Fanfair.
A professor in the university’s Faculty of Education and Director of the York Centre for Education and Community, James is also cross-appointed in the Sociology and Social Work graduate programs. In the past few years, he has conducted extensive research that examines the schooling, educational and athletic experiences of marginalized and racialized young people.
Prior to joining the Faculty of Education in 1993 and becoming a full professor 10 years later, James was the director of the graduate program in Sociology. He also taught at Sheridan College and was the course director in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Physical Education & Health from 1992 to 1995 and again in 1997.
Eight years ago, Uppsala University in Sweden honoured James with an honorary degree for his contribution to social equity and anti-racism education.
Pinnock, a chartered accountant who runs a public accounting practice, is a former York Region senior budget adviser.
Recently appointed York Regional Police Service deputy chief Andre Crawford was also recognized at the ceremony at the Markham Civic Centre council chamber. He was presented with a plaque and a portrait produced by Aurora High School Grade 12 student, Tredel Lambert.
“My degree from Waterloo is in Fine Arts so I have done drawings and I have an appreciation for art,” said Crawford. “It means a lot to receive this portrait from a young man embarking on his career as an artist. This is fantastic.”