Letter to W.H.G. (mentor)
I have so many moments to say thanks to you for that this meagre attempt will fall far short of what you deserve!
Your demeanour, that of the happy camper, the happy observer, the understated and under-appreciated intellect, trained in both philosophy and law, will always be stored in my moving pictures of mentors, heroes and friends. Your immediate openness to my request to join you in your office, as a mere undergraduate before I had even graduated and enrolled in law school never ceases to amaze me.
Your generosity of mind, heart and spirit was never an abstraction; it always took physical form! It always meant something authentic and concrete to another. Your adoption of children without a home, not always of your race or creed, shone like a beacon, a lighthouse on a shore of cold unforgiving granite, the town where you practiced law and where I attempted to grow up. Your hiring of First Nation individuals ripped apart the veil of separation and segregation that hung over the history of the town. It provided hope for the more dispossessed and the most ostracized. Your capacity to work with a variety of personalities, not all of them easily suited to accommodation with each other, including my own, and to accept them for their unique and positive contributions, at times when they were not always on an even keel, demonstrated an understanding, a compassion and a confidence that speaks volumes to those whose birthplace was your chosen home.
Your absorption of the beauty of Georgian Bay, with its winds, sunrises and sunsets, its changing seasons and magnetic power to attract others from across the globe served as a barometer of your largesse of spirit, imagination, intellect and of your connectedness to God and the universe. While you never knew where the files were, as soon as someone found them, you knew intimately all the details within their documents, including the dates significant for their processing in court or registry office, or the labour hearings, or the council or board meetings to which you were expected to speak on behalf of a client. Your easy command of the most minute, but significant, details and your ability to separate those significant from those less relevant left me, and I am sure others, in awe of your grasp, partly because it seemed to effortless so graceful and so natural.
You always asked the right questions, whenever you prepared to meet a client, or whenever you prepared me to enter into any file. You always set me up for success and celebrated with me when, to my surprise, I found it, no matter how small. You always appreciated where God had made it possible for you to live, and always were amazed that others, even if they numbered in the millions, would choose Toronto as their residence. While driving across the 401on the way to your appearance at the Ontario Supreme Court, you exclaimed, “Why would all these people live here?” as your new scarlet, push-button drive Plymouth moved among the morning traffic.
Your confidence in me, and in my capacity to become a lawyer, never satisfactorily demonstrated in grades to those admission gate-keepers in law faculties, always surprised me. I am not sure if you were the most generous person alive, of if there were some aspect of my being to which I had not been introduced, that you were able to see and to celebrate. Perhaps, it was a little of both. Nevertheless, I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to know you and to work with you and to learn from you and to celebrate your hope and confidence in the Liberal Party of Canada, an institution that has seen both high’s and low’s over the last half century plus.
Your political life included, not only active membership in the Liberal Party, but also the “chair” of the “yes” vote on serving alcohol with meals in one of the last such plebescites in Ontario in 1961. Your leadership of the movement was another act of compassion, moderation and good judgement, dedicated as it was, not to the immoderate consumption of the ‘demon rum,’ as the prohibitionists would have it, but rather to the proposition of moderation itself, in that while enjoying the dining offerings of the various local outlets, one might also share a drink of wine prior to or with the meal. This custom, a global expression of an evolved civilization, was not a common visitor to our town, like other symbols of an evolved culture. I am confident that without your leadership, characterized as it was by integrity, modesty vision and deep understanding of both the potential for abuse and the potential for moderate implementation, the vote would not have succeeded.
You were not only bringing access to alcohol to the tables of the dining rooms where people went out to eat; you were also introducing a new perspective to the people of the town, in your characteristic understated manner.
It was your capacity for understatement, for subtle appreciation of the nuances that found expression in the lives of your peers that illustrated your subtle and sensitive perception along with the refinement of your capacity to find meaning and motive. Your observation that “at that house when we are invited to dinner, we are always expected to bring a dish, whereas when any of the others invite us to dinner, we are never expected to bring anything” calmly details the lack of generosity of that host, without rancor or bitterness, but with your usual clarity. Travelling in the social company of professionals, all of whom could well afford to feed their guests, you were making a significant observation about that “society”.
Lawyers in our town, in the late fifties and early sixties, were not usually members of a service club, except for you as a member of Lions. Here also your iconoclastic understated approach to the affairs of the town kept you in touch with men and women of various vocations, lifestyles and points of view.
Your wry observations about anyone who demonstrated pretensions in any way, including some in your own profession, never lacked the humour of the satirist nor the edge of the social critic. Your confidence in your own credentials and qualifications likely enabled your willingness never to let their pretensions go unnoticed or unchallenged, although never to the detriment or debasement of another person, including especially your clients. Your subtle observations, those of the literate, intellectual, detached, ironic observer came from a well of experiences with murderers, thieves, other offenders mostly petty, and mostly I would believe, whose lives emerged from circumstances that defied credulity, compassion and empathy.
You took their cases long before the existence of legal aid, for fees often never paid, because you knew that they needed representation and yet could not afford to pay. It is not surprising that the Ontario Conservative government selected you to inaugurate the legal aid office in our town. Who else could have been their choice? It is also not surprising that the same Conservative government selected you as one of the recipients of the then lauded stature of Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.). And later in your career, you were also honoured to be considered, if you would agree, to be appointed to a judgeship. But since you would have had to leave your home on the shore of Georgian Bay, you respectfully declined.
You even graciously asked my opinion about that offer. Naturally, I spoke in favour of your acceptance, because I believed then, and still do today, long after you are deceased, that you would have provided a level of balance, sound judgement and the critical ingredient of challenging the existing boundaries fo the law by pushing the envelop to the limits of its possibilities, leaving us with a more humane, more ethical, more tolerate and sustainable justice system. But you declined. And I, for one, can attest to the warp such an appointment would have placed on your lifestyle.
My gratitude for your allowing me to accompany you along your way for a few years knows no bounds. I am thankful that you entered fully into dialogue with me about anything and everything that a twenty-something curious mind might seek to explore.
It has been those many conversations, debates, including your “presence” that have so shaped my life affirming my openness to new experiences that can only bring new awareness, new perspectives and thereby “new life” in the real sense of those words.
And the unmistakable scent of your Wakefield tobacco rising from one of your many pipes will always bring back your kind face and even kinder smile, as I pay frequent visits to our time together. Thank you for being my adopted uncle, father, and friend.