The rags to riches tale of a larger-than-life romance of over seven decades
Me & Issy is a love story about how a troubled and deprived child chanced to meet a man who worshipped her, brought her a fantasy life of four boys and extraordinary opulence — and banished her self-doubt. She in turn was awestruck and mystified by his acumen and daring during his founding of the Four Seasons Hotels.
Beginning with her childhood in North Toronto, in a very Jewish home surrounded by non-Jews, Rosalie enchants us with anecdotes about her family, Isadore Sharp’s family, and the growth of their own in the light of the expanding Four Seasons chain. How did she go to the Ontario College of Art & Design while simultaneously raising four rambunctious boys? How did Issy open hotel after hotel with only his collateral of confidence and charisma? Rosalie is a rapt follower of his astonishing success and the first fan of his legendary town hall talks to 40,000 employees.
And with success came tragedy. The devastating death of their son Chris shook them, but they coped. Here, all of Rosalie’s life is opened up for viewing, the good and the bad, the success and the failures, but especially her inspired romance with Issy. In the words of their second eldest son, Greg, “Their mutual love and respect growing stronger over the past 69 years is as extraordinary as it is beautiful.”
About the author
Excerpt: Me & Issy: A Four Seasons Romance (by (author) Rosalie Wise Sharp)
In this, the year of the pandemic, Issy has been rooting around in his past to understand his success. Why did he never have a fear of failure? What were the way posts? Recently Issy’s high school friend, Herb Noble, came to dinner bringing a binder full of items describing why Isadore was the most popular kid at school. This was a shock to Issy, who has never had, he says, any “ego.” Why was it that the principal of Forest Hill Collegiate Institute asked him to be the spokesperson to garner student support for an indoor skating rink? And the day my father locked me out, Issy instinctively acted responsibly by speaking to him immediately and making such a winning case, maybe because his parents taught him to do what needed to be done, as soon as possible. Issy credits this visit to my father as another of the landmarks for his success that he’s just dug up from his youth.
It took five years of begging, borrowing, and debating, to produce the first hotel, which happened only because of Issy’s persuasive charisma, which to him is a mystery he’s trying to figure out now that there is a lull. Perhaps it’s his self-confidence just short of loftiness rather like Lil Sharp, or maybe it’s the low-key appeal that makes him so likeable. Sometimes while we were driving around the city, instead of paying attention to the road, he would be craning his neck out the car window, looking for possible sites. Now he had two jobs: building apartment towers all day, and at night sitting at a typewriter in our spare room with one finger pecking out proposals for hotels on various sites he had on hold. These three-page prospectuses would then be packaged in a colourful cardboard folder, and the next hurdle was to find investors. So Issy would park himself regularly on the doorstep of Cecil Forsythe, of Great-West Life Insurance, and pester him for money. After three years of proposals, Forsythe — who of course had taken a liking to Issy — finally caved in and pledged half the financing. With the promise from the trades to hold off on their pay, and with $90,000 each from Issy and two partners — his brother-in-law Eddie Creed and a friend, Murray Koffler. Another friend, Wally Cohen, to his everlasting regret failed to invest.
“Behind every successful man, there is a … — In her case, Rosalie Sharp has always stood right next to her legendary husband. Giving us a portrait of both symbiosis and substance, it is all here: love, loss, and hospitality.” — Shinan Govani, Toronto Star columnist