ALAN BOROVOY–GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
When I contemplate the articles and news reports in the papers, T.V. and radio that followed the death of my good friend, Alan Borovoy, it has brought an ironic smile to my face. Why? When Alan retired and we met on occasion thereafter, he always commented that he was out of the public eye. No more requests from the news media, asking his opinion on civil rights issues . “Nonsense I said” within a short period of time, they will remember and call. I was wrong and Alan as usual was right, or was he? Alan would be so pleased at the recognition of his work by the public and the news media, whether the political right or left. It is sad that he couldn’t enjoy the accolades he received. If Alan had been religious with a belief in God, heaven and hell, I might say that he is looking down on us from above, with that all-knowing smirk . Alan would have retorted, that he is an atheist, and in any case he might have gone to hell.
The news media has covered Alan`s public successes very thoroughly, but they did not know him personally as I did. A close friend for 72 years, yes I said 72 years, as I met him in grade 7 of Clinton St public school. Alan, from the first was a cute troublemaker , who enjoyed playing non-harmful jokes on all his friends. I clearly remember an incident when I first met him. I was in line for recess and behind me was Barry, also a friend ,and Alan followed him. All of the sudden I felt a painful pinch on my rear-end, and quickly I turned and blamed Barry. He denied it, as he should have, but in no time a scuffle ensued between Barry and myself, and we were not allowed out for recess. Alan with that devilish smile went out unscathed to enjoy the free time.
Alan and I spent five glorious years together at Harbord Collegiate, at a time when the school was populated mostly by Jewish kids, children of recent immigrants. Being dressed well ,with the proper, suitable clothes was not a priority with Alan. To be honest he looked most of the time ,as if he had slept in the clothes he was wearing. Inevitably the rear pocket of his trousers was hanging out. If Alan`s locker at school had been an apartment it would have been condemned. We both enjoyed our days at HCI and Alan, who loved singing took part in some school functions with the “Lost Parabola” , a school spirit club. It was a show put on for the students. Neither Alan nor I were in the “A” classes but we both managed to graduate with enough grades to get into pharmacy for myself, and University College for Alan. I remember so well in 5th form, which was our make or break year for entrance to U of T, after a night of studying every day we met at Grace and Harbord at about 11 P.M.with other students who were in the same situation. I can think of Mel Finkelstein ,a close friend to Alan, Floyd Stern and Monte Harris.
At University College and U of T law school I was not in contact with Alan as often as before. He did join Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity with myself and some others from Harbord and I will never forget an incident when we both attended a national convention in Atlantic City. The first night of the event I had no date and drank a little too much. Alan and I went up to our room, separate beds in one room, and during the night I became nauseous . I felt awful and ran into the bathroom retching and bringing up. The bathroom door was open and I heard Alan call me “Toj” That was my nickname. I felt he was going to somehow try and help. Not a chance. “Toj, close the bathroom door” We both laughed a lot about that incident. Alan spent a great deal of time in the JCR , the Junior Common Room. He met many of the ladies he subsequently took out there. Alan loved to dance and whirling his dates around the dance floor was his favourite pastime at dances. Whereas amoung our friends it was common to talk about the events with this or that woman, Alan was secretive. He never talked about his relationship with women. I had bought a very pretty cottage in Muskoka and offered it to Alan for a short stay. He thanked me profusely for the use of the cottage but my neighbour, the marina owner, told me exactly what occurred. It appears Alan would show up in the morning with his lady friend, use the dock and the kitchen and the privacy of the surroundings and go back to his motel room at night. When I asked him why he had used the cottage in this manner, he was surprised that I knew, but answered with a sly smile, that he was sure that I would place a camera in the bedroom. Which bedroom there were three? It is beyond belief that he would suspect me of this type of practical joke, and he was never a great spender to pay for a motel when it was unnecessary , but his secretive nature took over and he paid the price of sleeping in a motel.
Mel Finkelstein was another old and close friend of Alan. Before the Nila service on Yom Kippur, Mel and Alan would go walking ,and as Mel stated they would solve the world`s problems. This tradition was carried on for years. Mel also served on the board of the CCLA. Two of Alan`s heroes were Bora Laskin , a professor of Alan`s at U of T , who eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Sidney Hook a very well known American political philosopher. Alan visited Hook on many occasions in the U.S. and he was proud of his friendship with this important man. I might state here, that to be friends of Hook would have been more important to Alan then to be friends with Bill Clinton. Alan worked diligently to make discrimination illegal against Blacks, Jews, aboriginals and gays in the fields of housing and employment. Without doubt he influenced the legislation of all the Ontario governments when he was working in the fields of human rights.
Alan went out with many women, as dates and as partners but he never married. He would have made a great father but a not so great husband. He never mastered or indulged in domestic skills that marriage demanded. To the best of my knowledge he would have been hard-pressed to prepare a soft boiled egg. His relationship with Myra Merkur , where he visited her at home on week-ends was as close to a permanent relationship that he had . It lasted ten years. Somewhere in his dating life he met a professor at U of T called Vivien . She was extraordinarily beautiful, I remember that, but unfortunately she died suddenly during their relationship . Alan was in contact with her parents for a period of time . He stated to me on many occasions that he might of married her, but I, personally, do not believe it. Alan was not the marrying kind, but believe me when I say this ,many of his old dates and partners were at his grave-side funeral. It was Alan`s way. I do not believe he broke off any relationship on bad terms . Alan won the Order of Canada, one of 17 other Harbord graduates who achieved that distinction.
I would have liked to serve on the board of the CCLA, but it was not to be. Alan of course said that who serves is not up to him. I find that hard to believe. Alan was too careful to allow me to sit on the board. I had a bad habit, which I acknowledge, of speaking sometimes without thinking exactly what I was saying. Alan was too careful to allow that in the board. In his field I can say honestly, I never won an argument. The answer is very simple. He had thought through the problems long before they came up and his brain was just waiting to tell his mouth what to say.Of course we mostly discussed and argued in his field and I was at a distinct disadvantage. We never argued about the state of pharmacy and related issues. Alan appeared spontaneous, but he was not, far from it . He knew at all times what he was saying and what he was going to do.
Alan cared about his friends. After my marriage , for reason unknown, I became depressed. Alan constantly called me and gave me confidence to protect my marriage. It worked out well and I must say, Alan helped me.
Free speech was so important to him that he fought Jewish organizations, (he was Jewish but not religious) who wanted to have legislation promulgated to prevent hate speech. He felt, and was ultimately proven right that laws preventing hate speech could be used against the very people it was designed to protect. The actions taken by the BDS movement in Canada to fight the Jewish organizations went nowhere because of the work done by Alan.
How was Alan different. Here`s how.! He did not care about making a great deal of money as long as he had enough to get by. Fine clothes, expensive holidays, big homes held no interest for him. His desk at all times looked as if it had been hit by a cyclone. He was passionate about free speech and democracy and when he succeeded in this field he was ecstatic. He valued his job with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association above all else. But I would like to add that he did not have an inflated opinion of himself or the CCLA or his ability to change things. His favourite saying was” he hoped to make things a little bit better.” and he succeeded.