From riches to strug­gle, suc­cess

Priv­i­leged life in Rus­sia lost in war­time, im­mi­grant built renown ca­reer as de­signer, ar­chi­tect


Asher Gransby, who helped de­sign the in­te­rior of Van­cou­ver’s old Wood­ward’s build­ing, the Chap­man’s cloth­ing shops and other B.C. busi­nesses, has died, aged 95.

Trained as an ar­chi­tect in Lon­don, he made a liv­ing in in­te­rior de­sign in B.C., where he also de­signed the in­te­ri­ors of the Blue Hori­zon and Coast Plaza ho­tels on Rob­son Street, the Old Ad­mi­ral Pub in Burn­aby and the first Wick­an­nin­ish Inn.

Asher’s fa­ther wasamed­i­cal doc­tor and mem­ber of the priv­i­leged Rus­sian Jewish in­tel­li­gentsia in Tsarist Rus­sia. He was close friends with Alexan­der Keren­sky, the sec­ond prime min­is­ter of Rus­sia’s pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment af­ter the Tsar was de­posed in early 1917 and be­fore the Bol­she­viks took power af­ter the Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion.

Asher and his brother, Leo, be­came Keren­sky’s god­sons when Keren­sky and his two sons, Oleg and Gleb, lived with the Grans­bys in Lon­don af­ter Keren­sky was al­lowed to flee Rus­sia.

Asher re­mained close to Keren­sky, de­spite the scan­dal of the dash­ing and charis­matic Keren­sky fall­ing in love with his mother, Mary, ac­cord­ing to Asher’s daugh­ter, Su­san Gransby of Burn­aby. The af­fair was never con­sum­mated, she said, and ended when Keren­sky left for Paris and Mary chose to re­main with her fam­ily.

Keren­sky vis­ited of­ten in Lon­don and later in Van­cou­ver when he spoke at the Uni­ver­sity of B.C. on his 1966 book tour — Su­san re­mem­bered Keren­sky do­ing the twist in their liv­ing room — and they kept in con­tact un­til Keren­sky’s death in 1970.

“It was re­ally an in­cred­i­ble life,” she said. “[Asher] came from great wealth, with maids and tu­tors, but he lost ev­ery­thing in the [Sec­ond World] war, when busi­nesses changed hands and busi­nesses were stolen, and he ended up with a reg­u­lar life.”

He was bornAsher Baruch Bene­dict Gavron­sky— he angli­cized his name be­cause of anti-Semitism— in Lon­don, Eng­land, on Nov. 23, 1914, one of two sons born to Dr. Ja­cob Gavron­sky and Mary Kal­manovsky, whose wed­ding in Switzer­land was re­ported in the Paris Daily Mail: “Guests par­took of a sumptuous Rus­sian lunch sent from St. Peters­burg.”

Asher was ed­u­cated at the ex­clu­siveBedales board­ing school out­side Lon­don and worked in his early 20s as a tea taster in the An­glo-Asi­atic Tea Co., the Lon­don of­fice of the Is­raeli tea com­pany Wis­sotzky that orig­i­nated in mid-19th cen­tury Rus­sia and had de­voted cus­tomers all over the Rus­sianEm­pire­and be­yond. (The com­pany was in­cluded in a pop­u­lar song that pro­moted the false anti-Semitic no­tion that Rus­sia was dom­i­nated by Jews in Tsarist times: “Tea of Wis­sotzky, su­gar of Brotzky and Rus­sia of Trot­sky.”)

Asher de­vel­oped a love of tea and a “life­long dis­dain for teabags, or ‘the floor dust­ings,’ as he called them,” said Su­san.

A gifted artist, Asher went on to study ar­chi­tec­ture and grad­u­ated from the pres­ti­gious Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects, but war in­ter­rupted his ca­reer.

His flu­ency in five lan­guages landed him a po­si­tion as Rus­sian trans­la­tor for Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence and he served in North Africa, Italy and Scot­land and as chief li­ai­son of­fi­cer for the Bri­tish Com­mand dur­ing the post-war oc­cu­pa­tion of Vi­enna. (His brother, Leo, was killed in the west­ern desert cam­paign in the war.)

Asher met Lee Ososki, a 19-yearold whose fam­ily was from Ukraine, and they mar­ried dur­ing the war, on Jan. 14, 1943.

“We met at a gar­den party just out­side Lon­don,” she said from her Burn­aby home. She said he went back to serve in the war and she wasn’t al­lowed to knowwhere, be­cause he was in in­tel­li­gence, sohe sent her wa­ter­colours of the cities he was sta­tioned in.

Lee re­called how one time he went AWOL for a day to spend time with her, un­til his su­pe­rior sent a mes­sage that if he didn’t get back, he’d be ar­rested.

Asher even­tu­ally re­turned to Lon­don, where he worked as a set de­signer at Pinewood Stu­dios and on sev­eral English her­itage build­ings. Af­ter trav­el­ling on busi­ness to Montreal, where he was able to in­dulge his love for ski­ing, Asher re­turned to an­nounce that the fam­ily, which now in­cluded Su­san and daugh­ter, Linda, would be mov­ing to Canada.

“I was very much against it,” said Lee. “I loved Lon­don.”

They im­mi­grated in 1957 and ended up in Van­cou­ver af­ter Asher found Montreal too cold.

“That was pretty up­set­ting to me,” she said good­na­turedly. “There­was noth­ing in Van­cou­ver. No mu­se­ums, no the­atre. There was re­ally noth­ing. The Queen El­iz­a­beth The­atre opened later [in 1959]. Lon­don had so much. But Asher took to it be­cause, well, there­was ski­ing. And af­ter a while, I got used to it.”

Asher com­peted in ski­ing un­til he was 78.

“He kept bring­ing home medals,” re­called Su­san.

But times were tough when they first ar­rived and Asher sup­ported the fam­ily by sell­ing World Book En­cy­clo­pe­dia sets door-to-door be­fore land­ing work for the city of Van­cou­ver’s plan­ning depart­ment and for Ea­ton’s and Wood­ward’s.

Asher even­tu­ally started his own in­te­rior de­sign firm, AG De­sign, and over the years he and Lee, a won­der­ful cook, en­ter­tained vis­i­tors from around the world — “Dad would be speak­ing to them in their own lan­guage,” said Su­san.

Asher leaves his wife of 66 years, his two daugh­ters and one grand­son.

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Asher Gransby with his god­fa­ther Alexan­der Keren­sky, the sec­ond prime min­is­ter of Rus­sia’s pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment.

Alexan­der Keren­sky (front) was in love with Mary Gavron­sky (rear) but it was never to be. Asher took this photo in Eng­land in 1919.


Asher’s wife, Lee Gransby, left, his daugh­ter, Su­san, and his god­fa­ther, Alexan­der Keren­sky, in 1956.

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