Remembering Hersh Wolch, QC
His heart stopped because it was beating for so long for so much more than one person.
Thank you for being here with us. Thank you to everyone who can’t be here. We have received such wonderful gestures in so many ways from so many places we are humbled. We thank you for pouring what you can into this massive feeling of absence. We need you, as we all need each other, because we all needed Hersh Wolch QC.
I can’t recall the last day I didn’t talk to my dad. Usually several times. If I didn’t call him with something on my mind, or for the sake of it, he would call to check in. The same went for all his kids. And he was always worried he might be interrupting something or somehow inconveniencing you. Sunday afternoon was no different.
He called while I was hiding in a dugout with my baseball team during a hailstorm. It’s why I heard my phone and was able to answer right then. He tried to let me go saying he didn’t want to interrupt the game. I had to convince him to stay on the phone and that he was not causing the delay, the hail was, and that I was happy to talk.
He was at the office. We talked about what a wonderful time we had the week before in Vancouver. We were at a Federation of Law Societies Conference that this year was subtitled “the last waltz”. We talked about our plans for the week. He had a preliminary inquiry Monday and I was supposed to be in trial but it was resolving which is why I was allowed to go to baseball.
He talked about how happy he was. How my siblings were all doing well, how impressed he was with everyone he worked with, how Sheilah was enjoying having particular projects completed and a plan to spend August in Canmore where I was welcome to join, he joked, for a few days if work allowed it.
Then he told me to have fun at baseball and that he was proud of me.
We left off that we would see each other before court in the morning.
It was the last time we spoke.
Our dad was once described in the professional context as a charming barracuda, very likeable with serious teeth. It’s a pretty accurate way to describe him in court, cross examining or arguing, and as a negotiator.
It was the charming barracuda who literally walked unarmed into the line of fire in a riot to save prison guards using words, and who worked so hard to free innocent people from prison and have them compensated for being victimized by miscarriages of justice.
Because there ARE innocent people in prison.
Above all our dad appreciated his family and his friends including his colleagues, he appreciated the place he held in the administration of justice as an advocate, his duties to every client and his privilege to mentor so many. He cared deeply for people who needed his help, he cared strongly that people should enjoy the protection of the law without being afraid of it, he was hopeful for what he saw in the future of his family and the growing ranks of his profession. His thread now part of the very fabric of justice in Canada.
You may not know that he was also an excellent tennis player, hit a hole in one, was a world master bridge player, did stand up at one point, entertained with card tricks, loved teasing all of us and playing with his grandkids, and was even in a fashion show where he walked a runway to “I’m too Sexy”. From our perspective, he could do anything or fix any complex problem in some simple way.
He told us his car had ejector seats that all he had to do was push a button and we would fly out the roof, he could drive in peace. He once made 5 dollars when a client inadvertently tried to mug his own lawyer. He referenced the pink panther in the Supreme Court of Canada. He convinced my intoxicated friend he was a bear. Many are now calling him a lion, a giant, or a titan. He has been called the “greatest mensch”.
Our dad died from his third heart attack, over 18 years since the first. He survived a stroke and leukemia. He went into the fifth round with death itself. He outlasted Mohammad Ali, of whom there is a poster in his office.
You may not know our dad was self made. His parents left Russia and Austria landing in Winnipeg before he was born. He started working in Winnipeg’s North End at the age of 5 delivering groceries on a bicycle. He paid his own way through commerce and law school – he was dangerous at poker - and became a crown prosecutor.
He was in the Supreme Court in his twenties. Became a defence lawyer and climbed to the peak of a storied, highly competitive, profession. He raised seven children and leaves 4 grandsons, his loving wife Sheilah, who made him so happy, and his sister our Aunt Sheila, her husband Bobby and our cousins, he leaves all of us, he leaves all of you.
As Amanda said, people literally owe our dad their lives. As Sheilah said, when his heart stopped ours all broke. But we are all together and are all better for him. Subtly he prepared us and gave us all the tools we need to survive and to thrive.
We want you to know
he didn’t lose his life on Monday
he won it.
Almost if not everyone here has some treasured memory of speaking with or listening to our dad, or some other story involving him. We know this because he shared a lot of them with us, and also many of you have started sharing some with us in the last day. We never get tired of hearing stories about our dad, the lives he touched, and would love more -please, if you have one or if you have a thousand, send them to us. We will try find a way to share them or keep them private at your preference.
We knew since Sheilah saved him in 1999 this day could come but it still never seemed actually possible. He seemed indestructible and now everyone is saying that 77 was far too soon because he was so strong and so energetic and still loved his work, his family, and he had so much life inside him and so much to share. But he could have lived to 177 and it would still be too soon.
We love you.
We thank you.
We are proud of you.
We say goodbye.
We are forever inspired.
-Gavin, son of Hersh Wolch QC