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.”