Anne Marie D’Amico managed to persuade relatives at her brother’s wedding to participate in a spur-of-the-moment group performance. She liked to bake macaroons and make goofy food creations with carrots for noses. Finding the perfect gift for every occasion was something she worked hard at. She had a black belt in Taekwondo. She took forever to get through a meal – she was such a slow eater that her family dubbed her “turtle”.
She was known by those closest to her to be a beautiful soul who had a way of showering attention and kindness in her everyday interactions, empowering others in everything from finding the confidence to sing karaoke to going back to school or learning how to drive. An avid volunteer, she travelled to the Caribbean to help build houses and helped out with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and the Rogers Cup (Canada’s premier tennis event), at one point being named volunteer of the year by the latter.
On April 23, 2018, Anne Marie, age 30, was the first publicly identified victim of Toronto’s infamous van attack. It was the deadliest intentional vehicle ramming incident in Canadian history. The majority of the victims were women; it was characterized as misogynist terrorism. A financial analyst, Anne Marie had been returning to work after lunch when she was struck by a van driving along Yonge Street that had jumped the sidewalk and was targeting pedestrians, killing 10 – including Anne Marie – and injuring 16. A man passing by held Anne Marie’s hand in her final moments.
When brought into police custody, the driver of the van described himself as an incel, seeking revenge against society for rejection by women. (Other motives apparently included notoriety.) He was recently found guilty on all charges – 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
Many in the crowd at Anne Marie’s packed funeral wore white ribbons as a symbol of the struggle to end violence against women.
“She was the face of tragedy for so many hours,” says Anne Marie’s brother, Nick D’Amico, who along with mother Carmela comprises the D’Amico Group, a two-person team with Royal LePage Terrequity Realty in Toronto.
“We wanted her also to be the face of hope.”
The family was determined to turn the tragedy into a catalyst for positive change.
To that end, D’Amico, his sister Frances, and parents Carmela and Rocco launched the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation in late 2018. (There are various directors outside the family as well.)
“There’ve been a lot of dark days. But the foundation has given us something to move forward with, to keep her legacy alive,” says D’Amico. “You need something to help you come to terms with the tragedy, or you’ll be stuck in a black hole forever…The foundation has brought our family into conversation every day. We were always a close family, and now we’re closer than ever.”
The mandate of the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, a registered charity, is to help women and children live free from violence. As a way to honour his sister, it’s a perfect fit, D’Amico says, noting that through her daily small acts of kindness, Anne Marie sought to make a difference in the world.
Every year on December 3, Anne Marie’s birthday, the foundation holds its pinnacle fundraiser (pandemic permitting), the Turtle Project, featuring an evening of live entertainment and stories of women who have survived violence. It’s a salute to Anne Marie and her childhood nickname. At this time the foundation’s ongoing focus for all donations (about $350,000 has been raised so far, with the goal being to reach $1 million) is the North York Women’s Shelter in Toronto, which for decades has provided safety and support to thousands of women and children impacted by violence.
Royal LePage Terrequity’s broker, Andrew Zsolt, has been a big supporter of the foundation, helping to raise funds and pledging $50,000 to build an outdoor playground at the shelter.
The Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, which along with being Canada’s leading public foundation dedicated to funding women’s shelters and violence prevention programs, is one of the Royal LePage brand’s central causes, has also “been integral in helping us navigate and build awareness,” D’Amico says.
The pandemic has made the task more tricky, and was the reason the Turtle Project fundraiser was put on hold last year. The family is keeping their fingers crossed that it can go forward this year.
“We raised almost $100,000 last year in donations, even during COVID,” says D’Amico. “We’d love to surpass that this year.”
The Toronto van attack attracted attention world-wide. Particularly with the media, D’Amico has learned to manage his emotions carefully.
“The media will be at you,” he says. “I was able to talk about it, but it got overwhelming at times. What happened happened. You will never forget it or get over it. But you can find ways to utilize what happened to learn and grow, and to keep that person alive, dwelling not on their death, but on their life.”
To donate to the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, visit the website.