The Portrait of Larry Mogelonsky
It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Monday, and normally Larry Mogelonsky would be at his Toronto-based company, LMA Communications, which he founded 23 years ago and has developed into a global business that has been particularly influential in helping hotel and hospitality industries better serve their customers. On this day, Mogelonsky, who is in the business of promoting and public relations, is offering some guests a rare glimpse into his personal and private life, revealing the 6,200-square-foot home he and his wife, Maureen, to whom he has been married for 33 years, own in the upscale Bridle Path area.
The house is one of several built in 1989 by Shane Baghai. Mogelonsky and his wife, who heads up the public relations team at LMA, bought the one-acre property 10 years ago when the original owner passed away. The Mogelonskys were attracted to the backyard, which is sprawling and undulating and will be part of the grand tour once Mogelonsky has shown off the interior. He is a lean and lanky six-foot-4½ individual whose clothes are custom made because of his size. Mogelonsky and Maureen, a Sydney, Australia native who met her future husband 37 years ago when invited by a mutual friend to a party at his apartment, share a love for art and have an impressive, eclectic collection. There are about 250 pieces that are catalogued — and that does not include the numerous sculptures inside and outside the house — almost all of which have been purchased by the Mogelonskys. They’re world travellers and enjoy buying something in each new city they visit to remind them of where they’ve been. Each of the items is an original. The Mogelonskys have two children, Samantha and Adam, who both work in the family business and like to say they grew up in a home that was more like an art gallery. “We collect art, lots of it,” Mogelonsky says. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? It’s a lot of stuff. I could never downsize. I don’t know where I’d put everything.”
Each room has works that don’t have any common theme, purposely designed that way by Mogelonsky to capture the viewing eye. There are Inuit whalebone sculptures, little Russian lacquer boxes and native masks that are among the various pieces shown in the early part of the tour. Of all the pieces he owns, his favourite one is Boys in the Graveyard by highly acclaimed artist Fred Ross of Saint John, N.B. The piece was bequeathed to Mogelonsky by his late father, Alex, who bought the painting in 1958 for a mere $200. The companion piece sold two years later for the same amount, but his father passed on it because he could not afford it and also have money to take his family out for a lobster dinner. The companion piece may now have a value of $70,000, he guesses, and while he suspects his father never spent more than $500 on a painting, Mogelonsky hasn’t completely ruled out buying it.
As impressive as the interior is, the backyard is something to behold because it’s a creation of nature and man. There are remnants from the original owner, including a bridge and a creek underneath it that has become a haven for loons. The property includes a pool, a tennis court and a gazebo where he writes, including a column, “The Hotel Mogel,” for Hotels magazine. The backyard is his personal oasis in the centre of the city, with ultra high-speed Wi-Fi coverage. Smack dab in the middle of the sloped landscape is a tree stump that has a Roman column sitting on it and a massive silver cube on top of that. Because of wiring issues, the stump could not be removed, so Mogelonsky decided to use it to create art. “I created something really odd by putting three pieces together,” he says. “It’s not what you see the first time around, it’s what you see the second time around. We like to create art in little areas where [it is]not expected.” Although the December 2013 ice storm in Toronto forced the Mogelonskys out of their home for 10 days and gutted the backyard, you wouldn’t know it on this day. The lawn, trees and shrubs are expertly groomed. “What attracted us to the house was the yard,” Mogelonsky says. He takes a few more steps and jokingly adds, “Most people have a 70-foot bridge in the middle of their property. It’s very common. It’s all designed to be inviting to the eye to draw people in and focus.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he exclaims. “We just sit in the backyard and enjoy the scenery. It’s our private domain. Do you know anyone else who has a bridge in their yard?” “At night you get a different view because it’s all illuminated,” Maureen says, adding that lights and handrails were added to the original structure, which was in need of an upgrade. In a few minutes, Maureen is about to take the family’s dog, a 10-year-old Bouvier des Flandres named Caesar, to the vet. He is a robust 115 pounds and is as much of an attraction as all the artistry because of his black, bushy hair and the gentle way in which he walks. The Mogelonskys rescued the dog when he was three because he was considered a dangerous dog. “The only danger is getting in the way between him and his food bowl,” Mogelonsky says with a laugh.
Once the tour is over, Mogelonsky returns to the house and sits down to talk a little about his life. The conversation is far less whimsical because it’s not about wealth and material possessions, but more about life. He grew up in Montreal in a 1,200-square-foot home that housed his parents; his two sisters, Ronna and Marcia; his grandfather, who worked as a news agent; and his father’s graphic artist business in the basement. As a hobby, his father wrote 17 books on art education. His mother, Lila, who studied art under Fred Ross at Saint John Vocational Art School, raised the kids as a stay-at-home mother and then helped her husband when he began his business in 1967. “Needless to say, growing up in a house with all of this was quite an eye-opener,” Mogelonsky says. “I don’t want to say it’s a rags-to-riches situation, but we never even owned a car until I was about 13 or 14. We didn’t have enough money to buy a car, if you can believe that, so we took buses everywhere.”
The family did not have the financial resources to go on holidays, so they spent summers in Saint John. His mother’s parents ran a small accounting and insurance brokerage firm. “They were proud, middle class and very much into the local Saint John community,” he says. Mogelonsky’s parents sent him to an art summer school, where he was taught by Arthur Lismer, a member of the Group of Seven. By his own admission, Mogelonsky was a “dismal failure” as an artist. “There was never any intention of becoming or working as an artist,” he says. “My skills are math, but where I got that from is anybody’s guess.” Mogelonsky had a goal growing up to become a civil engineer. He has an honours bachelor of civil engineering with distinction from Concordia University, and is a registered professional engineer in the province of Ontario. But engineering became a mismatch because Mogelonsky had a limited interest in it. He furthered his education with an MBA, completed at McMaster University in Hamilton.
His entry into the business world began with nine years in brand marketing, and then he switched to advertising. He became a management supervisor for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts as well as several other service-sector businesses. Twenty-three years ago he started LMA, and it has since won 67 awards from the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International, more than any other agency in Canada. He has two published books on hotel management, with a third coming out this fall. His passions include playing duplicate bridge, occasionally competing against his mentor, Isadore Sharp, the founder and chairman of the Four Seasons chain. Both play at the same club. Mogelonsky’s goal is to become a life master at the game. He also enjoys concerts, wine tasting and collecting, and photography. He is also actively involved in helping new, young artists develop by purchasing their works. “In many cases, I’ve bought that first piece of work that that artist has ever come up with to get them started,” he says. “That first sale of a piece of art is so motivational for a young artist. It really is.”
In the last three years, he’s begun a plan to match high-end, luxury hotels with works of art from their local communities. It is the community spirit and ethos that is a part of his upbringing. “We have one Picasso, and it’s in our bathroom,” he notes. “I just want to imprint upon you that art is everywhere and just because someone has the name Picasso attached to him doesn’t mean that art has to be in your living room over the mantelpiece. Art is in everything we do and art is not the exclusive domain of [those whose names are] represented by Sotheby’s or Christie’s.” His daughter grew up surrounded by art, becoming a fine artist with her own studio, but her parents aren’t ready for her to work solely as an artist, even though that is ideally what she wants. “I said, ‘When you can make a living as a fine artist, you can be a fine artist. Until then, I’ve got a job for you here and you’ve got half a dozen people in the studio that report to you just to make it happen.’” He marvels at his son’s sixth sense for hotels, even though he did not study for that business or have any experience working in one.
At age 61 and in good health — notwithstanding some aches and pains he experiences from a motorcycle accident more than 45 years ago — Mogelonsky, who credits his wife with being a key to his success, is living the good life. The couple gives back by annually supporting charities and providing art scholarships. Collectively, the portrait of Larry Mogelonsky is one that has been cultivated from the environment in which he was raised and taken to a new level by what he has done in business, notably in the hotel and hospitality industry. He enjoys each day, never taking it for granted. Although there is one moment he’d dearly love to have back. It happened back in 1964 when he was only 11 and his path in life was wide open. He was riding his bike and failed to stop when his grandfather, who was sitting on the balcony of his apartment, waved to him to come up and join him. “I was too busy with my friends. He died that night in his sleep.”
It is a rare moment of sombre reflection for someone whose friends would describe as humorous, excitable and overly enthusiastic. On this day, he displays all of those personality traits. Overall, it has been a good life, and he has come to understand the importance of cherishing it every day, knowing it can end at any time. “My dad died at 74, my mom at 72,” he says. “My grandparents lived to their 80s and 90s. If I only have 11, 12 or 13 years left, I’m going to get the most I can out of it.”
Q&A With Larry Mogelonsky
Q How would friends describe you?
A Unreserved, humorous, excitable, overtly enthusiastic … all with a very short fuse
Q Favourite book and/or quote?
A Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (one of his lesser-known works). I think it was Steve Jobs who said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” The concept of that sentence is incredible
Q If you could have any art piece, what would it be?
A Several years ago, I bid on Miller Brittain’s only self-portrait. I lost to the National Gallery of Canada
Q Favourite artist?
A Miller Brittain. He was an abstract impressionist in the later part of his life. My dad wrote a book on him entitled In Focus. It was an edition of 500 and quite rare. I remember visiting the artist when I was a child. It was kind of scary as his house was in total disrepair. When he died, it mysteriously burned to the ground; it was thought to be haunted. I will bid on anything that comes up on auction of his work that complements my collection
Q What destination should be on everyone’s bucket list?
A In Canada, the two coasts: Tofino, B.C., Peggy’s Cove, N.S. and St. John’s, N.L. In Europe, the town of Mougins in France, Venice in winter (with no tourists) and the old city of Jerusalem (with any religious belief)
Q What does la dolce vita mean to you?
A It means living life to the fullest. Don’t wait for others. Do what you need to do. Stop watching sports on TV — that’s someone else’s profession
Q What do you know today that you did not know in your 20s?
A How important friends are, how short life is