The 'heart' of Wasaga - Macleans.ca
 

The ‘heart’ of Wasaga

Paul Vozoris the “wonderful heart of Wasaga Beach”


 

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Paul “The Blanket Man” Vozoris was a local fixture in Wasaga Beach, Ont. With a cigarette dangling from his lips or between his tanned, rough fingers, Vozoris would wander around the small community—snow or sunshine—in his worn cut-off jeans, layers of blankets cinched with a woven belt, and a Santa Claus beard.

Exactly how he ended up in Wasaga was a mystery. Some speculated his family was murdered; others thought his mind snapped because his wife was killed in a car crash. But the truth emerged late last month after he collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 64.

His sister, Marilee Kidd, said that Vozoris was born in New York City, and moved to Toronto as a child. Their father was a successful engineer from Greece, and sent Vozoris to the elite University of Toronto Schools. But everything changed when the high-achieving teen was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Though he spent time in mental institutions, he preferred the streets, disappearing at one point for about six months until he was found on a hot-air grate near Toronto General Hospital. “He didn’t like to be enclosed,” she said. In the late 1980s, his family convinced Vozoris to move to Wasaga, near his parents’ then-home. They believed the community would care for him. “You don’t get a lot of tolerance and support in a big city,” says Kidd.

Embrace him they did. Nick Grouios, owner of a local Coffee Time, knew Vozoris for more than a decade. “He was quiet, and didn’t make trouble,” he says. “I gave him free coffee every day.” One Christmas, Grouios asked his most loyal customer to join in his family’s holiday celebrations, but Vozoris declined, saying he preferred to wander. “He was always walking from one end of the beach to the other,” says Grouios. Lucia Ferrazzo, the owner of an Italian restaurant called Little Marina, was paid by Vozoris’s family to feed him three meals a day for 21 years. “He was very nice, very respectful,” she says. “I gave him his medication every day. He was like one of the family.” Since his death, there’s been an outpouring of grief. A candlelight vigil and memorial service was held in his honour, where a pastor called Vozoris the “wonderful heart of Wasaga Beach.”


 

The ‘heart’ of Wasaga

  1. Thanks Julia for remembering Paul with this article. Paul was enabled to "fit in" in Wasaga, because so many people reached out to him. Thankyou to all Paul's friends, for the part you played to help him feel needed and accepted . I thank God that the storm in Paul's life passed and he ended his walk in the warmth of the sunshine of Wasaga.
    Marilee Kidd (Paul's little sister)

  2. Great article, very inspirational! We need to hear more stories such as this in the news, especially in these times. There is 'holiness in hidden places' in the mundane routines of life. In the simplicity of Paul's life, he found those. May God bless those who reached out to him and may it be a good lesson for the rest of us that God calls us to love one another. He makes no distinction in loving only the beautiful and the best. The God of the Bible bestows his love upon the broken and the bruised, and He calls us to do the same…
    Carole Cole

  3. Thanks Julia. You grasped the essence of Paul's story. The people of Wasaga are a wonderful example of how a community can show love and caring for those who are not the same. I hope your article may inspire greater support for the needs of the mentally ill from the community and government. A family often feels helpless as they watch their loved one suffer through their illness. I thank God for those who showed love and kindness to Paul, our kind and caring nephew. I still remember him bringing a child's guitar to my 3 children because they were fascinated with his guitar even though he needed the money.

  4. I just read the article today about Paul Vozoris. I knew Paul and his family when they lived in Etobicoke. His sister, Noelle, was my age and his parents were great friends of my parents. The family was not without tragedy, losing Noelle when she was still in university.

    The Vozoris family was always warm, loving and caring about everyone and it is wonderful to read that it was "paid forward" by those who cared about and for Paul. My memories of him are fond and always will be. And Merilee, it is wonderful to learn of your large family. I'm sure they bring much happiness to your Father. Please remember me to him.

    Jane Cumming (Phillips), Columbus, OH

    • Hi Jane. I grew up with Marilee on Six Mile Lake and we travelled extensively skiing in the west. I have lost touch with her and just recently found her on this site.
      Would you happen to have an email address foe her
      Many thanks
      Barbara Miutel (Lecker)

  5. I was born and raised in wasaga beach. my grandpa opened teddy bears taxi and i remember one day picking him up while i was sitting in the passenger seat i was about 7 at the time. i was scared of paul. my grandpa said to never judge someone by how they look but my gut after they speak. so i said hi to paul. he smiled and said hi sweetie. From that moment i adored him. Id see him walking all the time as i grew up seeig paul everyday was ritual. Then the day i never saw paul. When the town hear.d…we mourned…as a town. When tourists would pick on him the tonw would fight back. Paul was the heart of wasaga it really hasn’t been the same without him. I still tihnk im going to see him. i miss you paul