With a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye, Naz Rayani greets customers and friends who have popped by the Peoples Pharmacy in Cadboro Bay Village. Most receive a hug, others a handshake – all offer kind words and congratulations for Rayani, a businessman, philanthropist and latest recipient of a Leadership Victoria Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I feel honoured,” Rayani said of the outpouring from his community. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
Rayani, the owner of five pharmacies in Greater Victoria, has recently returned to work after taking time off to recover from two strokes in 2010.
Health issues have not dampened the 68-year-old’s spirit or drive, however, as he continues to conduct tours of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Burnaby, where he has led some 2,000 visitors. His next tour of the mosque is set for March 28.
A devout Ismaili Muslim who immigrated from Kenya in 1974, Rayani’s work connecting people of different faiths reaches back to 1994 when he began work with St. George’s Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay. The church’s pastor at the time, Rev. Logan McMenamie, had corrected a parish member who felt Rayani was a good Christian, by underscoring that Rayani was also a good Muslim, too. When word got back to Rayani, a friendship was born.
“I picked up the phone and I thanked him,” Rayani said. “In this part of the world Muslims are known as terrorists. I recognized him for saying I’m a good Christian, which is a privilege and an honour, but calling me a good Muslim is more important.”
Rayani and the small local Ismaili Muslim community continues to support the church through an annual samosa sale – an always sold-out tradition that now coincides with a major focus of Rayani’s work: the World Partnership Walk.
Sixteen years ago, Rayani brought the spring event, aimed at raising awareness and funds to support developing countries through the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, to Victoria. It grew from 500 supporters in the first year to about 3,000 currently. In 2010, the walk generated a record $250,000, with Rayani personally responsible for $60,000 of the fundraising.
“There was nobody in Victoria who could do this job and (neither could) I, but Aga Khan found I was most capable. It was a risk.”
In 2006, Rayani was appointed a member of the Order of Canada. He is also a member of the Telus Community Board, the Rotary Club of Saanich, the Cadboro Bay Business Improvement Association and is a supporter of the Centre for Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. Yet he remains modest about the accomplishments that led to the recent honour. “I’m filling the shoes of (Thrifty Foods co-founder) Alex Campbell, (Mustard Seed pastor) Tom Oshiro and (community activist) Jane Heffelfinger – so they’re kind of big shoes to fill,” Rayani said of former Lifetime Achievement Award recipients.
“He was far and away the best candidate for the award this year,” said Kate Mansell, chair of the Victoria Leadership Awards steering committee. “He embodies so many aspects of good leadership. … When he puts service above self, it is really good indication of what being a leader is all about.”
The father of two and grandfather of five doesn’t hesitate to offer the next generation of community leaders a little advice: “Never be afraid to say yes, even though it looks like it might be a mammoth task or incredible task, because there is always a silver lining.”
In celebration of the award, Rayani will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Feb. 8, at the Peoples Pharmacy in Cadboro Bay. He will accept his latest honour at the eighth annual Victoria Leadership Awards ceremony Feb. 21, from 4 to 6 p.m., at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The event is a partnership between Leadership Victoria, UVic, the Rotary Clubs of Greater Victoria, the Victoria Foundation and the United Way of Greater Victoria.