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Tuesday February 5, 2013

Matthew Elliot Shuster

Husband, father, architect, Mac devotee, folk singer. Born Oct. 28, 1947, in Montreal, died in Toronto on Dec 28, 2012, of cardiac arrest in his sleep, aged 65

Matthew and his two older sisters grew up in tough times in Montreal.

His father, Sam, was a pattern cutter for the needle trade who died after 10 years of illness and unemployment when Matthew was 19. His mother, Fay, struggled while working two jobs to maintain the family. Matthew was determined to craft a brighter future for himself and to take care of his mother, and he succeeded on both counts.

He earned a bachelor of architecture from McGill University in 1971, married his true love, Cheryl, in 1974 and made an exodus to Toronto in 1976. There he built Shuster Design Inc. and became highly respected in the corporate interior design community. After selling SDI in 2007, he went solo with his practice, called iDesign.

In his apple-green home office, he happily worked on projects until the day he died, with no specific plan to retire.

Matthew loved his life with Cheryl and their sons Jay and Danny, whom he saw develop into talented individuals. He passed on to his boys the genes for making friends and for loving all things Mac. An early adopter of whatever Apple had to offer, Matthew enjoyed always feeling like he was on the cutting edge.

Matthew and music are synonymous. He taught himself to play acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo, and got involved in the great folk music wave of the 1970s. He had a smooth voice and perfect pitch, and sang in the shower. The Shuster household was filled with folk music playlists on Walkmen, iPods, iPhones, the car and kitchen stereos - Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Stan Rogers, Leonard Cohen - for our sing-along pleasure.

The Friday-night Song Circle and annual summer week at The Woods Music and Dance Camp outside Toronto were his own personal heaven.

Matthew was fulfilled, and had only a short wish list: He had always wanted a convertible. In December, 2011, he indulged. He thought that buying a convertible in winter was a good move that would accelerate spring. He proudly drove the black Toyota Solara home on a chilly day with the top down. He said that every time he drove it felt like being on vacation.

To live well after three rounds of open-heart surgery required lifestyle changes. He took the challenge, eliminating processed foods and adding intensive exercise: the latter not a passion but a necessity.

Matthew left us shockingly suddenly, and way too soon, but touchstones and traces of him remain. His legacy lives on in his sons and his singing. His long-legged stride, baritone voice, gentle nature and quirky sense of humour will never be forgotten.

He would advise us to be grateful for people who make us happy, acknowledge the power of music, indulge in occasional special purchases, eat dark chocolate and exercise intensely.

Cheryl Shuster is Matthew's wife.

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