For many, perhaps for most, the natural starting point for remembering the late Warren Toltz is the end point: his stellar achievements in business and philanthropy. For ourselves, as the starting point we prefer . . . the starting point.
We remember Warren Toltz as the young man not seeking to establish himself in his own right, but to be the proud inheritor and nurturer of the Toltz family legacy in business and tzedakah and the up-from-the-bootstraps effort of the Bugdanowitz family to grow Dependable Cleaners — yes, as a business, but also as a brand associated with integrity and philanthropy. We remember Warren Toltz when he first became president of the Allied Jewish Federation. He was awed at the task, not a little nervous, aware of the great responsibility that fell on his shoulders and of the legendary names that preceded him in leadership. In both roles, in business and philanthropy, Toltz was humbled yet confident, all the more motivated to succeed because of the family traditions that he was proud to embrace.
Indeed, as Warren Toltz grew in stature in both fields, in business and philanthropy, he came to be known for the beautiful qualities that he evinced for so many decades, before his passing this week at the age of 88.
Rare is the person, or the couple, who seem so naturally associated with leadership that an award is named for them in their lifetimes. Yet, Warren and his wife Ruth founded the Warren and Ruth Toltz Young Leadership Award at the Allied Jewish Federation (now JEWISHcolorado). Even now, long after most of the current leadership knew the Toltzes personally and had little understanding of why a young leadership award would be named for them, the award stands firm and strong. The Toltz name, style and contributions have come down untouched, undiluted, such that the reason to sustain this award in their name seems as natural as the day it was established.
Beyond Israel, which was a prime motivator for Warren Toltz’s leadership at Allied, and beyond the Jewish community generally, Warren Toltz took “Coats for Colorado” far beyond what he could have imagined. It was a natural marriage. Toltz’s Dependable Cleaners cleaned coats. Why not collect and give away coats to those in need? At this point, some two million (!) coats have been distributed. Oh, and did we forget the American Heart Association and Denver Health, which also earned Warren Toltz’s active leadership? Not to mention, his beautiful gesture in cleaning tallesim and American flags for free!
Is it any surprise that the Toltz-Bugdanowitz legacy has been taken up by Warren Toltz’s children? It is any surprise that the deep concern for the Jewish world, and for the wider world beyond, have found their advocates in the Toltz children?
Warren Toltz had a touch. A soft touch. A kind touch. Qualities that are often erroneously associated with passivity or indecision. Not so in Warren Toltz’s case. People followed his leadership because of his firm vision, but they enjoyed it, too, because of the human qualities that Warren Toltz had no need, or ability, to discard due to the leadership he embraced.
That combination, that humanity, that smile, that clear thinking, that unabrasive straightforwardness, that he-makes-it-look-easy and unwavering dedication of Warren Toltz are sorely missed.
Among the compensations for the profound loss are the countless ways that Warren Toltz passed down his own legacy and the countless people he inspired, who now take up where he left off, just as he once did so many years ago.
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