by James Kwantes, World of Mining

“Murray Pezim lives somewhere beyond Outrageous. To get there, drive to Crazed, keep going toward Bonkers via Berserk, then slow at Around the Bend and look for signs.” Sports Illustrated’s Douglas S. Looney

Murray Pezim

The Pez and three fans (Alex Waterhouse-Hayward photo)

“Pezim had taken them on a ride to nowhere, but what fun they had had.” The Vancouver Sun’s David Baines

He was like a character out of a Tim Burton movie or a Bob Dylan song. And had The Pez caught wind of such a character, he likely would have upped the ante.

Murray Pezim promoted Vita Pez rejuvenation pills and helped put Hemlo and Eskay Creek, premier Canadian gold deposits, on the map. He flogged cassette greeting cards and backed Stampede Oil and Gas, which owned a piece of a huge Canadian gas field.

He made, then lost, fortunes – several times.

Murray Pezim had pizzazz, almost literally – he promoted the greeting cards through Pezzaz Productions, a subsidiary of Pezamerica.

Pezim was born in Toronto in 1920 to Romanian immigrant parents. His father, who liked to gamble, owned two drugstores and the family lived in an upper-middle class neighbourhood. But the stores’ fortunes crumbled along with the North American economy when the Great Depression hit, and Pezim Sr. opened a couple of butcher shops instead. At 14, Murray quit school to help, and used to relate how he “remembered unthawing his tingling hands in a bucket of warm water.”

Pezim got his first taste of the stock market in the butcher shop. One day a wealthy customer walked in and gave him a hot stock tip. Pezim bought and watched as the stock soared before crashing back to earth. He was hooked.

And it was in the butcher shops – serving beaten-down people living in poor neighbourhoods – where Pezim learned the sales techniques that would later earn him millions in the markets.

“They’d come in in the morning looking like the wrath of God,” Pezim relates in Fleecing the Lamb, David Cruise and Alison Griffiths’ history of the Vancouver Stock Exchange. “I’d kibitz with them – ‘How lovely you look today, Mrs. McGuire.’ It got so that they’d [let] only me wait on them because I gave them a bit of spark in a terribly drab life.”

The sparks Pezim later ignited on Howe Street sometimes became brush fires, and occasionally, all-consuming infernos. Vancouver Sun investigative reporter David Baines described him as the greatest promoter in Canadian stock market history. At the height of Pezim’s powers, trading in the dozens of companies in his stable accounted for a significant chunk of all trades on the Vancouver Stock Exchange.

His tenacity, discovery and promotion of some of Canada’s richest gold deposits earned Pezim a spot in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

This Sports Illustrated feature captures a fabulous snapshot of Pezim’s chaotic life circa 1991 when he owned the B.C. Lions football team. The writer, Doug Looney, had been commissioned to write a piece about Lions quarterback Doug Flutie, but he didn’t make it past the team’s owner, who provided all the colour necessary.

Here’s how it starts:

Up in the owner’s box at Vancouver’s B.C. Place stadium, during a Canadian Football League game involving the British Columbia Lions, an old fat guy is on his feet. On his hands are huge orange mittens that look like lion paws. He is waving them and growling like a lion in support of the Lions. Fans look up at him with a mixture of amusement, amazement, bewilderment and contempt.

He is Murray Pezim, 70. He owns the Lions. He knows nothing about football. Never mind, says Pezim. “I’m a natural, kooky owner.”

Vancouver writer and photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward provides a more poignant trip down Pezim’s Howe Street in this blog piece, which includes a Baines article.

In an interview a year and a half before he died, Pezim told The Sun’s Baines that he’d rather be in the warmer climes of Scottsdale, Arizona but he couldn’t afford the medical bills.

“David, I’ve lived a full life. I’ve done everything I want. I can’t say God has been bad to me, but I can yell at him sometimes,” he said.

Pezim died on Nov. 11, 1998, but his name lives on in the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia’s Murray Pezim Award, handed out annually “for perseverance and success in financing mineral exploration.”

Pezim’s son, Dr. Michael Pezim, is a surgeon who runs the Pezim Clinic in Vancouver.