President Kennedy once held a reception at the White House for a group of Nobel Prize winners. He famously quipped that, “It was the greatest collection of talent under this roof since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” I was reminded of those words recently when I attended the launch of the Baron Byng High School Online Museum at the University Club. The initiative is the work of an ad hoc committee chaired by Ted Rotsztein. Over 500 items were carefully curated by Helen Malkin. All this can be seen at baronbynghighschool.ca
As many of you know, in the sixty years of its existence, Baron Byng produced an unparalleled number of national figures who led this nation in everything from politics to the arts, law to medicine and the sciences. The names have filled our national consciousness and conscience for nearly a century. NDP leader David Lewis, novelist Mordechai Richler, poet Irving Layton, lawyer and poet A.M. Klein, Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish, Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry Rudolph Marcus, Nobel Prize nominee in medicine Dr. Phil Gold, artists Rita Briansky, Mel Boyaner, Seymour Segal and Tobie Steinhouse, Quebec Justice Minister Herbert Marx, Deputy Finance Minister of Canada and Chief Negotiator of the North America Free Trade Agreement Simon Reisman, Concordia University president Frederick Lowy, McGill Medical School Dean Abraham Fuks, Canada’s leading WWII fighter ace Syd Shulemson, Chief Judge Alan Gold, Justice Joseph Nuss of the Quebec Court of Appeal, Judge Louis Tannenbaum, Judge Benjamin Greenberg, actress Marilyn Lightstone, community activist Syd Stevens, entertainment entrepreneur Sam Gesser, film and theatre producer Harry Gulkin and former federal Immigration Minister Gerry Weiner among so many, many others.
Montreal lawyer George Sand and his colleagues staged a unique evening of memory, wisdom and the challenge to live up to what these graduates achieved. Justice Fish and Dr. Gold were among the speakers. One of the most touching moments was meeting accountant Edward Wolkove, class of 1939, who was sharing memories with industrialist and philanthropist Lorne Trottier. The latter himself a BBHS grad from the 1960s, said he was there not just for himself but for his mother — Rita Rafael — class of 1937 and someone Wolkove remembered. Businessman Lewis Dobrin was there for his father Mel Dobrin, former President of Steinberg’s, who not only was a classmate of Wolkove’s but the two wrote their accounting exams on the same day.
In our time of paternalistic nanny-states, it is remarkable to reflect that the vast majority of these exceptional people were products of immigrant backgrounds, had little in material resources and faced constant discrimination. Yet they not only survived but thrived. What they had in abundance were courage, drive and self-reliance. They knew that life was not a dress rehearsal and they took responsibility for their own destinies. More than anything, this is what we have to teach young people — and their parents — today. This was a gathering of eagles. Their generations soared.