Taste of the Nation’s Laurie Normand-Starr is gone

By Alan Hustak on May 6, 2009

Laurie Normand-Starr, a community volunteer who died recently at her home in Westmount, threw lavish charitable fund-raising dinners where the rich were charged to feed the poor. 

Mrs. Normand-Starr spearheaded Taste of the Nation, the annual event which collected more than $2 million for three Montreal charities since the Montreal chapter was founded 16 years ago. The money raised by the event was divided among three charities:  Share the Warmth, the Pointe St. Charles community organization, Dans le Rue, and Oxfam-Quebec. 

“She had a great heart,” said Herman Alves, who took over as organizing chair of the event when Normand-Starr became ill. “She persuaded 25 influential people to get behind the project, and then she moved heaven and earth to motivate everyone to feed the hungry. She was very determined, a great leader.” 

She persuaded celebrity chefs, major restaurants and hotels in the city to contribute samples of their culinary fare to an annual dinner at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Musicians and singers volunteered their services, and guests were then charged $150 a plate to attend. 

“She was a spectacular volunteer,” said Judy Stevens, Share the Warmth’s executive director. “She was energetic, compassionate, a very hard worker who was committed to getting the job done. The concept of Taste the Nation was going on in 100 other cities before we started the Montreal chapter. Rather than ask people to donate money, she’d ask them to donate their services, then set up a free gourmet meal with wine.” More than 1,000 people attended the last such event which raised $154,000.

LaurieNormand-Starr.jpgLaurie Starr was born in Windsor, Ont., Dec. 17, 1957. She was the eldest of two daughters in jazz musician Emile Cisco Normand’s family. Her father was a drummer and composer who became a major figure in Montreal’s burgeoning jazz scene after he moved here in 1963. After her graduation from Marymount High School in 1975 she went into the fashion industry and eventually became vice-president of a small chain of women’s clothing stores, J. Harrop and Co. In 1983 she married media executive Peter Starr. They have a son, Paul. 

In 1992 Mrs. Normand-Starr became one of the founding members of the local chapter of Taste the Nation. “She was outraged at the thought that children in a country as rich as Canada should go hungry,” said her husband, Peter, “There was a great amount of disenfranchised youth, and she thought the easiest way of turning that around was to feed children. She focused on feeding children. She also wanted to create a charity where 100 percent of the money raised went to hunger relief. Not a single penny went to administrative costs.” 

She also got this paper’s editor, Beryl Wajsman, and his Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal involved in helping both Share the Warmth and Moisson Montreal. Several years ago the freezers and cupboards were literally bare. Starr brought Wajsman into the picture and in a matter of weeks he brought together Montreal’s Levinoff Meat Company and other suppliers and the alliance started shipping tons of meat and chicken to the food banks. The initiative helped feed so many that it was written up in The National Post by Elizabeth Nickson as a prime example of non-governmental citizen initiatives that outdo governments.

“She was a starburst of energy and commitment. Her passion and fun made involvement irresistible. She was as compelling a conscience for social advocacy as Montreal ever had. She was one of those people who was not supposed to die. She belongs to the ages now but lives within us all,” said Wajsman.                         

Although efforts were made to have her receive the Order of Canada, Mrs. Normand Starr died before her nomination could be processed. She did, however, receive the Helen prize for humanitarian works, the Share our Strength Humanitarian of the Year Award, and the certificate de reconnaissance Oxfam-Quebec. 

Her funeral was held at St. Matthias Anglican Church in Westmount. 


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