Not all ottomans are created equal. There are those that do double duty,” boasts Palliser Furniture’s website. Indeed, Palliser CEO since 1984 Art DeFehr has turned his upholstered furniture into a cushion for victims of war and disaster. For his dedication to bettering the lives of others at home and abroad, the founding chair of Canadian Foodgrains Bank and member of River East MB Church, Winnipeg, was inducted into the Order of Manitoba, the province’s highest honour, July 12.
After his march with Martin Luther King Jr. (while a student at Goshen College, Ind.) gave him an FBI file and disqualified him from his dream of joining the Canadian diplomatic core, DeFehr grew the business his father Abram began in their basement (and moved shortly after into a former chicken barn) into a leading North American company, its success freeing him to engage in “world causes without the constraints faced by regular diplomats,” DeFehr told Furniture Today.
The idea for the Foodgrains Bank came after his assignment as first director of an ongoing MCC agricultural restoration and innovation project in Bangladesh 1972–74. Observing Bangladesh’s food shortage and the difficulty in obtaining aid, DeFehr suggested the “Joseph principal” from Genesis 41: store up grain in the years of plenty so that it is available in times of famine, eliminating the need for crisis appeals. In 2010–11, Foodgrains Bank provided $38 million of food, seeds, and other assistance to 2.3 million people in 35 countries, adding up to 1.1 million tonnes of food in 78 countries since 1983.
DeFehr has served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees to Somalia 1982–83; a Somali official credits DeFehr’s report as the blueprint for holding the country together. The Harvard graduate was also instrumental in the creation of Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, and has supported Habitat for Humanity since its foundation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, DeFehr established an independent business community in Russia and founded Lithuania Christian College. He served on advisory bodies for the Canadian government leading up to the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
DeFehr’s other honours include a lifetime achievement award from the Entrepreneur of the Year program by Ernst & Young in 2001 and investment as an officer in the Order of Canada in 2004.—AS