View Libby Znaimer


iTHINKTHEGREATEST legacy is Jack’s gift of love and friend­ship.” I was sur­prised when I heard those words in for­mer On­tario pre­mier Bob Rae’s eu­logy for Jack Rabi­novitch. Not that I doubted Jack’s ca­pac­ity for pro­found re­la­tion­ships. But as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man and phi­lan­thropist he had so many ac­com­plish­ments of a more con­crete kind. He founded the Giller Prize (later known as the Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize), which glam­our­ized Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture, and he was in­stru­men­tal in build­ing the Princess Mar­garet Hos­pi­tal (now the Princess Mar­garet Can­cer Cen­tre) on Univer­sity Av­enue in Toronto. I had never heard about that lat­ter en­deav­our un­til the fu­neral – ironic given my con­nec­tion to the in­sti­tu­tion.

I have of­ten learned won­der­ful things about friends and ac­quain­tances at their fu­ner­als. Note to self: take more time to know peo­ple out­side the par­tic­u­lar box where you en­counter them. And, as the song says, do it “In the liv­ing years.” I used to at­tend con­certs my late neigh­bour Ana­tol Rapoport held at his home. He was a re­tired math­e­ma­ti­cian, and bril­liant. Yet, un­til his me­mo­rial, I had no idea that he had served in U.S. in­tel­li­gence in the war, re­turned to be­come one of the orig­i­na­tors of game and con­flict the­o­ries and cre­ated the “sit-in” at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan in the ’60s.

I knew Jack mostly as the host of the lav­ish awards din­ner for the Giller Prize. He hatched the idea with his life­long friend, the iconic Cana­dian writer Morde­cai Rich­ler, as a trib­ute to his sec­ond wife, the lit­er­ary jour­nal­ist Doris Giller. My hus­band Doug and I were his guests for 19 years, not by virtue of any con­tri­bu­tion I may have made, but be­cause my brother Moses was the first broad­caster to tele­vise the Gillers. Jack had that kind of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for fam­ily. I re­mem­ber my ex­cite­ment at re­ceiv­ing the beau­ti­ful black in­vi­ta­tion with a red rose at­tached. This was the party of the sea­son, a lot of peo­ple wanted to go, and they weren’t ashamed to say so. For the first few sea­sons, the RSVP line car­ried a mes­sage for wannabes – the party was for Jack’s friends and any­one who hadn’t re­ceived that cov­eted de­liv­ery wasn’t get­ting on the guest list. It was all part of the strat­egy to cre­ate a buzz around CanLit. The prize also boosted sales to the point that the in­dus­try coined the term “The Giller Ef­fect.” Next month will mark the first Sco­tia­bank Giller gala with­out Jack. It’s hard to imag­ine, but the event has be­come an in­sti­tu­tion. “A lot of peo­ple launch things – ideas, char­i­ties and move­ments – and they don’t go any­where,” Moses ob­served. “And this thing that Jack planted is here to stay.”

Will I leave any­thing that lasts? Much as we fo­cus on remembering the dead to com­fort the liv­ing, a fu­neral is also an op­por­tu­nity for re­flec­tion and in­tro­spec­tion, maybe even cor­rec­tion. I’m sure it’s very bad form to think of your­self, to com­pare, at a time like that. I’m also sure most ev­ery­one does.

At the Shiva – the tra­di­tional Jewish mourn­ing week fol­low­ing a death – I asked Bob Rae about the hos­pi­tal project. He was On­tario’s pre­mier at the time and the pro­posal crossed his desk, with Jack to push it for­ward. Doris had died of can­cer and this was his first trib­ute to her. He was a very suc­cess­ful de­vel­oper and as such took on the vol­un­teer job of head of the build­ing com­mit­tee on the Princess Mar­garet Foun­da­tion board. Bob ex­plained that there was no room to ex­pand the ex­ist­ing fa­cil­ity at the old Sher­bourne Street lo­ca­tion. But there were com­pli­cated is­sues around the Univer­sity Av­enue Hy­dro site. Sev­eral mem­bers of his cabi­net, in­clud­ing the then-health min­is­ter were op­posed. Rae over­ruled them but it was Jack who over­came the trick­ier hur­dle of op­po­si­tion from the city. He pro­ceeded to bring the project in un­der bud­get.

So there it is – a legacy in both con­crete and cul­ture. I knew Jack only pe­riph­er­ally. Aside from the gala, there was an an­nual ten­nis tour­na­ment we both played in and the oc­ca­sional gath­er­ing at his home, the oc­ca­sional party at ours. He could be gruff and around him I al­ways felt more like a green kid than a con­tem­po­rary. But I look up to him as an ex­am­ple of a life well-lived. “I came to love his abil­ity to make and keep friends,” Bob Rae said in the eu­logy. “That to me is his legacy above all else.” And to me, that is the thing I hope I can live up to. Libby Znaimer ( is VP of news on AM740 and Clas­si­cal 96.3 FM (ZoomerMe­dia prop­er­ties).

Moses with Jack

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