Remembering Frances Blau: a trailblazer for women in Canada’s mortgage industry

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Canada’s mortgage industry lost one if its great advocates, trailblazers and pioneers last week with the passing of Frances Blau.

Described by friends and colleagues as professional, personable, knowledgeable, and a “force to be reckoned with,” Blau played a pivotal role growing the country’s broker channel into the robust industry that exists today.

Blau, who passed away on February 26th at the age of 92, began working in the mortgage sector in 1979, following 20 years as a legal secretary. In 1989, Blau became the first female president of the Ontario Mortgage Brokers Association (OMBA), which was the predecessor of the Canadian Institute of Mortgage Brokers and Lenders (CIMBL).

A legacy of service and dedication

Frances BlauFrances Blau

Upon entering the industry, Frances became known as a problem solver who went above and beyond for the people and projects she believed in. Beyond her day job as the co-founder of City Capital Financial Corp. and her responsibilities as an OMBA board member, Blau was known for organizing industry gatherings, administrating training programs, serving on committees and volunteering her time to growing the industry in any way she could.

“Frances was a tireless worker,” said Wayne Sudsbury, a long-time friend and colleague who served alongside Blau on OMBA and later CIMBL. “There wasn’t any job that was too big for her to tackle and spearhead.”

Sudsbury recalls Blau organizing luncheons, meetings, and trips, delivering speeches, teaching courses, even lending a hand at industry golf tournaments, despite not playing the sport.

“The world, the province of Ontario, mortgage brokers and lenders are without a great person, a tireless worker, and ongoing positive force in the mortgage industry,” he said. “Without her we are certainly weaker than we used to be, and I miss her.”

A role model for female brokers from coast to coast

Blau’s reputation for getting things done extended from her countless passion projects to her mortgage clients.

“We heard from many clients that they loved working with her — she had the same clients year after year,” said her daughter Judy Blau during the funeral service on February 28. “She was very well known and very involved in the mortgage industry.”

Blau’s list of industry awards and accolades is long — and includes the distinction of being the first female inductee of the Canadian Mortgage Hall of Fame — but her daughter says she most delighted in being named “A Woman on the Move” by the Toronto Sun in 1987.

Judy remembers her mother as an “eternal optimist and amazing lady” who helped administer what was, at the time, the only sanctioned course for mortgage brokers in the province.

“I was really proud of her commitment and the respect she garnered in her industry,” she continued. “Way back that was a man’s world, and I really admire how she was an inspiration to other women.”

One of those women, Susan Greenbaum DiBari — now a co-owner of Income Mortgage Services Inc. — knew Blau from the time she entered the industry in 1987 right up until Blau took a step back from her career, just a few months before her passing.

“I was in awe of her growing up,” said DiBari, who described Blau like a “mother hen” to the young women in the industry at the time. “She was the first woman to be on the board of OMBA, which inspired me to be on the board.”

DiBari isn’t the only one. In fact, Blau served as a powerful role model to many of the industry’s future leaders, whether she intended to or not.

“She was one of the people that helped me get involved in the association as well, and I was on the board for a number of years,” said Roslyn Goldmintz, president of Verico RBG Mortgage Professionals. “She was like the matriarch of the mortgage industry at that time.”

Goldmintz remembers Blau as striking the perfect balance between knowledgeable and humble, always willing to offer advice while treating younger colleagues as equals.

“She was incredibly devoted to the industry,” she said. “She just really epitomized professionalism yet was always so personable.”

Blau’s former fellow board member and senior vice president of CMLS Financial, Dan Putnam, described his one-time colleague as “very passionate,” “professional,” and “strong willed” in her effort to grow the mortgage broker industry in Canada.

“She was there at the beginning when mortgage brokers were viewed as lenders of last resort, and now they own 34% of all mortgages in Canada,” he said. “This would not have happened without the formation of an association, which drove collaboration amongst competitive mortgage brokers in every province across the country.”

Putnam adds that Blau would also be proud of the business she co-founded and managed for nearly 60 years, Abacus Mortgages Inc.

“She built a very, very successful mortgage brokerage operation,” he said. “Francis was just an absolute lady and a treat to work with.”

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