Harry Mayerovitch OWN R.I.P.

“Comrade Harry” Mayerovitch
16-04-1910 – 16-04-2004

For more see Harry Passing

Appropriately, the symbol of Wednesday Night [designed by Harry Mayerovitch] is a glowing candle, as much a symbol of the warm, candle-lit atmosphere of Wednesday Night, as of the flame of wisdom, sparked by the many fine minds that are so much a part of these unique evenings.

Harry Mayerovitch, architect, ranconteur, illustrator author and Montreal’s most mecurical senior, who was feted at the launch of his latest book at the Blue Metropolis festival two weeks ago, died in his sleep yesterday on his 94th birthday. His last book, Way to Go, was, ironically, an irreverent look at death and dying.
Among the buildings Mayerovitch designed are the house in Westmount now owned by former Prime Minister Mulroney, The old Jewish Library, which is today the Aegidius Fauteaux newspaper archives building at the corner of Esplanade and Mount Royal, the City Centre office tower at Mayor and City Councillors, and the Adath Issrael Academy in Outremont.
“He gave old age a good name. He was such a repository of human warmth and insight,” said Montreal author William Weintraub who was at a dinner with Mayerovitch on Wednesday. “He was sharp as a tack until the day he died.”
Harry Mayerovitch was born in Montreal April 16, 1910, the son of Jewish Bessarabian immigrants, but grew up in Rockland, Ont. where his father opened a general store.
He went to school in Rockland and at the Ottawa College Institute before he enrolled at McGill University in 1926.
Mayerovitch was considering a career in law until he walked by the school of architecture’s drafting room, and “immediately knew I had to spend the rest of my life making pencil marks on sheets of paper.”
Mayerovitch obtained his degree in 1933 and spent one year in Paris on a McLennan travelling scholarship.
He spent almost a year working with renowned Montreal architect Percy Nobbs before going into partnership with Alan Bernstein in 1935. The firm specialised in high rise apartment buildings such as the Seigniory on Ste. Catherine St. at Fort.
During the Second World War Mayerovitch turned out posters for the war effort; one of them Home Front, caught the eye of the NFB’s John Grierson, who hired Mayerovitc as art director of the NFB’s graphics department.
He married Lily Caplan (not a K) a school teacher, and they had four children, David, Nina Robert and Julie. But he and his wife separated, and he shared 13 years of his life with Betty Ann Affleck who died last year.
A genial and subtly sardonic wit, Mayerovitch was chairman of the theme committee for Expo 67 , Chairman of the Westmount Planning Commission and a member of the Jerusalem
Mayerovitch wrote and illustrated ten books, including The Other One (1973) Overstreet, which outlined his “simple, practical and rational” method for urban development and How Architecture Speaks and Fashions our Lives.(1996) and Way to Go (2004).
“Architecture has lost some of its relevance in the modern age because no one thinks far into the future anymore,” he told a reporter in 1996, ” Architecture is in danger of becoming just another commodity.” Mayerovitch retired in 1990, the same year the Saidye Bronfman Centre held a retrospective of his work.
An eternal optimist, he once told a reporter that “In spite of the complex forces against us, I have faith in man’s inherent nobility..”

Architect, poet, visual artist, wit and bon vivant passes away on 94th birthday
By Martin C. Barry
Longtime Westmounter Harry Mayerovitch, a distinguished architect, author, artist and all-round lover of life, died in his sleep on April 16 his 94th birthday. At his easel virtually up to the last day, Mayerovitch was the author of numerous poetry collections and illustrated books. In an ironic twist in keeping with his sense of humour, his last book, Way to Go, recently launched at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis literary festival, is an irreverent examination of death and dying.
A book about drawing he had been working on was left unfinished. Mayerovitch was familiar to Examiner readers for his distinctive cartoons, which appeared regularly in the paper over the years since the 1960s. His work was also well-known to Canadians both here and overseas during World War II, when he designed a series of powerfully vivid posters for Canada’s war effort.
One of them impressed National Film Board founder John Grierson so much that he hired Mayerovitch as head of the NFB’s graphics department. More than two decades after the end of the war, the posters became part of a display in the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67.
Former mayor Peter Trent, a close friend of Mayerovitch for more than 20 years, often described him as a true Renaissance man.
Born in Montreal to Rumanian Jewish immigrants on April 16, 1910, Mayerovitch grew up in Rockland, Ont., where his father had moved the family and opened a general store. After completing his grade school and secondary education in Rockland and nearby Ottawa, he entered McGill University in 1926.
He loved to tell the story of how he had initially considered a career in law, but as a pre-law student at McGill during the Stephen Leacock era, he happened to poke his head into a room where architecture students were hard at work, and he was instantly captivated.
It was another world I hadn’t been aware of, in fact at that time I had no idea I could draw, he said. It was a real stroke of luck because I’d have made a bad lawyer. Leacock swore he’d make a good economist of me – which shows what a great humourist he was! Mayerovitch switched his major to architecture, obtaining his degree in that discipline in 1933.
After spending some time working with legendary Montreal architect Percy Nobbs, he entered into a long and productive partnership with architects Alan Bernstein and Lionel Mincoff. Mayerovitch’s work as an architect included the house on Forden Crescent now occupied by former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the old Jewish Public Library on Esplanade Avenue downtown, the Montebello highrise apartment tower on The Boulevard, and numerous private residences all over Montreal.
Eldest son David Mayerovitch described his father as a man who celebrated life. He was an astonishing man who, as he grew older, took more and more joy in life, he said. His enthusiasm and creative energies flowed out of him, undiminished, all his life. When he found something that struck a chord in him, he would leap at it and commit himself to it and find joy and challenge in it.
The family home on Westmount Avenue holds many fond memories of Mayerovitch for his son. He had a studio on the third floor of the house in which he spent many hours, David said. To me, that was always a magical and enchanted place where he worked with these implements‹the tools of his art and craft. The elder Mayerovitch was motivated by a strong sense of social justice all his life. He remained all his life an enemy of violence, hatred, cruelty and exploitation, David added.
Peter Trent, who first met Mayerovitch when the latter was chairman of Westmount’s Architecture and Planning Commission in 1983, around the time Trent had just become an alderman, said that Mayerovitch introduced himself with a book of cartoons he had just produced. That was the way he wanted to introduce himself not as an architect, not as a philosopher, not as a thinker, but as a man who drew cartoons, Trent said.
A staple at David and Diana Nicholson’s Wednesday Night current events discussion salons almost from the time they started in the early 1980s, Mayerovitch always provided a very wise and broad reaction to just about any subject that came up, according to Trent. That was one thing that I’ll always remember Harry for, the depth and breadth of his knowledge on just about everything, Trent said. He would always approach it in a very unusual and disciplined way. I’m certainly going to miss him.
Diana Nicholson said Mayerovitch was given the nickname Comrade Harry because of the role of a Soviet-era Russian premier he had been asked to play during a round table simulation of world events his first time at Wednesday Night. He just walked into that role and played it without anybody explaining what we wanted him to do, she said. He just assumed the logic of what the negotiation would be. He was absolutely magnificent. After that, “Harry was hooked on Wednesday Night and we were hooked on Harry”, she added.
David Nicholson recounted walking around an exhibition of Mayerovitch’s works at the Saidye Bronfman Centre. Assuming that the works of at least 10 different artists were on display, he found himself marvelling at the range of talents which all turned out to be Mayerovitch’s. This guy is a pretty good photographer, Nicholson recalls saying to himself. It turned out to be Harry. Great sculptor – it turned out to be Harry. Wartime portraits – all done by Harry. He was a fantastic artist.
The father of four children, Mayerovitch was predeceased last year by his partner, Betty Ann Affleck. Such was Mayerovitch’s emotional attachment and commitment to Montreal that he left specific instructions concerning the disposal of his remains following cremation: they are to stay in Montreal. “This is where he has lived his life and wishes to remain”, said son David.

Marvelous Harry Mayerovitch
By Wayne Larsen
A fellow journalist once asked me what I liked best about working at the Westmount Examiner. My response was immediate: There is such a great cast of colourful characters to write about. My friend knew exactly what I meant. By nature, Westmount has always been populated by more than the usual quota of talented, intelligent, eccentric and accomplished people who make the writer¹s job so much easier simply by being so interesting. From a mayor who writes a comic play and convinces his council to dress up in 19th century costumes to act it out, to an artist who rides around on a bicycle with a massive canvas strapped to his back (not to mention the current premier and a former prime minister) Westmount is full of fascinating, bigger-than-life personalities. But when it comes to colourful, accomplished Westmount characters, few could ever outshine Harry Mayerovitch, that multi-talented dynamo who packed more living into one life than most people would think possible.
Over his long life, Harry found time to be an architect, painter, cartoonist, poet, satirist, writer, orator and whimsical sage; those closest to him would no doubt have even more to add to the litany. He had a distinguished career as an architect, designing several well-known buildings during an era of great development and growth in the Montreal area. In the spring of 2000, he celebrated his 90th birthday by contributing the inaugural exhibition in the new Gallery at Victoria Hall. At that age most artists tend to hold retrospective exhibitions of their life¹s work, but not Harry. That show was devoted exclusively to his drawings, a mere fraction of his enormous output. He turned up at the vernissage wearing a loud yellow sports jacket and a battery-operated necktie with flashing lights – certainly not your average Westmount senior.
Arguably his funniest book was a collection of cartoons entitled Second Coming a gentle satire on Jesus Christ, who finds Himself back on earth in the present day, attempting to cope in the modern urban jungle. Last year, at 93, he published a book of limericks that poked fun at everything from historical figures to present-day politicians; this year, he turned his attention to the ultimate inevitable and penned a book about dying. It was titled, with typical Mayerovitch bravado, Way to Go.
Despite the diverse array of hats Harry wore with equal expertise throughout his life, when he died in his sleep last week it was certainly as a poet; slipping away on his 94th birthday, two weeks after launching a book devoted to death and dying, was nothing short of a masterpiece of poetic justice. Although it had been many years since Harry was an official contributor to the Examiner, regularly as a cartoonist and occasionally as a poet, he still dropped by our office whenever he happened to be in the neighbourhood.
His youthful energy and mischievous enthusiasm were contagious, and his visits were always the highlight of the day. Whenever Harry and I got together, whether casually or to discuss his latest book or art project, I would always say this to him: When I grow up, I want to be just like you. For some reason, this always seemed to please him immensely. Way to go, Harry!

6 Comments on "Harry Mayerovitch OWN R.I.P."

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 17, 2004 at 10:47 am ·

    Dear Diana and David,
    It is very rarely that one encounters a “very old spirit”, but Harry was one of those rare beings. It is paradoxical that the older the spirit the younger in many ways the person. Openness, curiosity, playfulness, warmth, wisdom, sensitivity, kindness, respect, love of words, art, animals and his fellow humans no matter what their faults, all characterized Harry. I always marveled at his equanimity and serenity and felt that he had so much to teach us, which he did so gently through his wit and whimsy which were a transparent and charming veil on his great intelligence. Whenever I spoke with him, I had the impression that there was a light shining out from within him. We are indeed fortunate to have had him in our midst and will miss him deeply – but our loss is the gain of the Great Wednesday Night elsewhere.
    Margo Somerville

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 17, 2004 at 10:50 am ·

    Saturday April 17
    Hello friends David and Diana,
    I was indeed very sorry to hear of the death of Harry M.
    My condoléances to his family and all those who loved him.
    Harry almost seemed to live life as if it were “timeless”, that was “Harry style” He always had a smile on his face and I only have good memories about the man and even more about his many accomplishments.I think he should be called “a real mensh”. Montreal was richer because of his presence and now for sure we are poorer in spirit. Voilà. I meant to say “ma plume pleure” on the news of Harry’s death, but knowing the man and his attention to all you have to say, I felt like talking to him for a few seconds. MAY HE REST IN PEACE….and he will. He was such a decent man.
    Sam Totah

  3. Gerald Ratzer April 18, 2004 at 5:52 pm ·

    Diana and David,
    I have met Harry many times at Wednesday night, including last Wednesday. I think Harry planned his departure with an elegance few of us could emulate.
    He had just completed his latest book on the art of dying in style, had his book launch the week before, and was with some of his many friends on Wednesday night. I had the honour of closing the evening and congratulating him on his book which I had just seen and had a chance to have another view into his world of wit and humour.
    Choosing to die on his 94th Birthday, having accomplished all his major goals on this earth, was a true Harryesque thing to do.
    We will all miss you greatly.
    Gerald Ratzer

  4. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 19, 2004 at 10:49 am ·

    My memories of Harry are very recent. I chatted with him at Wednesday Night last week.Once more I carried away an impression of a warm and kind person, very much alive and aware.Would have guessed his age in the range of mid-seventies.Seeing his true age in your notice, what came to mind is a person who led a very full life An example to follow….
    Tony. [Antal Deutsch]

  5. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 20, 2004 at 10:59 am ·

    Harry was such a class act, and he even exited in a classy way–quickly, painlessly, quietly. I remember my very long conversation with Harry and Betty Ann Affleck at John C.’s party years ago. They were lovely, and she and I connected immediately. A week later a package arrived from Harry–stuffed with his books.
    Sabra Ledent

  6. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 20, 2004 at 11:02 am ·

    Hello David,
    My most vivid memory of Harry is from the time we organized an Art Series at the McGill Club. We asked Harry to speak on creating art.
    He began his speech by saying that there is only one tool you need to create art.
    We all thought that he will talk about talent, learning, practice, etc. NO.
    We realized that he was really talking about a ‘tool” as he took a #2 pencil out of his pocket.
    So complete, yet so simple. Just like the man. Ron Meisels

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