Editor’s Note: Philanthropy in Ottawa is supported by The Foundation (WCPD), an Ottawa-based philanthropic tax planning advisory firm that helps individuals and foundations increase the size and impact of their charitable donations.
When Hank Mews was admitted into the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) for valve replacement surgery in 2017, the octogenarian was understandably apprehensive.
“He was scared, he was really nervous,” said Rob Mews during an interview with older brother Harry about their father’s procedure. “He didn’t think he was coming out; he literally thought this was the end. It hit home with me, it hit home with our family.
“Thank God everything worked out for him.”
The Mews were so grateful to the UOHI for the medical care provided that they recently gave a $1-million transformational gift to the foundation on behalf of their business, Myers Automotive Group.
The Mews brothers, who own the dealership group together, expressed pride and gratitude Monday as they spoke about the charitable gift inside their newest showroom, Myers Volkswagen Barrhaven, on Strandherd Drive. It’s a big, bright and airy space. It even smells brand new.
“For us, to honour our dad and our mom’s wishes, that’s really fundamentally what this is,” said Harry.
The businessmen feel they owe it to the community to be philanthropic.
“We’ve been very fortunate; we’ve been successful,” said Rob. “Without the community supporting us, we wouldn’t be here. We just wanted to give back and express our appreciation for everything that everyone has done for us. Hopefully, our gift will make a difference.”
Myers Automotive currently has 15 dealerships, all in Ottawa, with the exception of one location in Kemptville. It also employs 825 people — including CEO Cyril Leeder, one of the original founders of the Ottawa Senators hockey club and a former COO and president of the team.
“It’s gratifying for myself and the rest of the employees to see this kind of investment back into the community,” Leeder said of the donation.
Many car dealerships, including Myers, are consolidating and getting larger. It’s always better for a community when the automotive groups are local, Leeder noted.
“They end up being able to make these kinds of donations, whereas you might not see this from somebody who’s based in Toronto or based somewhere else.”
On hand was Lianne Laing, executive director of the UOHI foundation. “This transformational gift led to the successful completion of the Bringing the Future Closer capital campaign, which secured the best in equipment, resources and facilities, including our hybrid operating rooms and brand new tower,” she told OBJ.
“Now, the clinicians, scientists and researchers have the tools they need to take on the biggest challenge yet, the ground-breaking research required to change the face of heart disease for our patients. The impact of this gift will be felt for generations to come and we are incredibly grateful.”
Hank first learned about community building while growing up in St. John’s, NL, where his father, who served in the First World War, was mayor (on top of his paying job).
He met his future wife, Phyllis, in high school while he was playing basketball and she was spectating.
“The story goes that dad did a layup and fell into her lap, underneath the basket,” said Harry. “He turned to his friend and said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.'”
Hank did a stint as a bush pilot and dabbled in insurance and advertising. He found his calling in the automotive industry — specifically with General Motors, at a time when GM held some 60 per cent of the market.
Hank bought his first GM dealership in Ottawa in 1975. Both his boys got their start cleaning cars for him when they were teenagers, while their older sisters pursued careers outside the family business. The brothers became more involved in Myers Automotive as they got older and after Harry’s hockey career wrapped up. In fact, the Mews brothers were the ones who really drove the growth of the business and who branched out to include more automotive brands.
“Dad was a true-blue GM guy, so when we came into the business — not to toot our own horn – we had an impact and we grew the business right away,” said Harry, before adding with a chuckle: “There were a couple of times my dad fired me and a couple of times I quit.”
Hank and Phyllis, both 85, are now in a retirement home. She’s been living for years with Alzheimer’s disease, while Hank has been experiencing a decline in his physical health and cognitive functions.
The couple used to be very active in their community and their church. In 2015, the Mews family and their business made a $1-million donation to the Queensway Carleton Hospital for its acute care elderly unit. Hank chaired the board of the QCH foundation for many years.
“He just understood how it works, that it’s important to reinvest in your community,” said Harry.
Myers Automotive also has a soft spot for youth sports, sponsoring many local sports teams and community hockey rinks and helping out such non-profits as CHEO Foundation, Soloway JCC and Salvation Army.