Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
David Nicholson by Alan Hustak
DAVID NICHOLSON 1932-2018
A Man for all reasons
David Nicholson, once an Air Force pilot, went on to become a successful investment broker and a computer whiz. For more than three decades Nicholson and his wife Diana aka “Mouse” opened their Westmount home to invited guests for a salon every Wednesday Night without fail. Some of the country’s most influential figures in finance, politics, art and literature sat around their candle-lit welcoming table where the stimulating conversation and debate was raised to an art form. Wednesday Night at the Nicholsons’ was as David once remarked “the best cocktail party in town where guests actually learned something.”
Curious, creative and erudite, he cut an elegant figure. Sporting, as he often did, a red jacket and his trademark ascot, he remained a dignified presence and gracious host even after his mind began to falter and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
He died on April 9, twelve days after his 86th birthday.
“He was very generous, very well connected, a kind of multi-talented guy,” said family friend former Senator and McGill University Chancellor Michael Meighen, “He did well as a stockbroker. He and his wife were certainly a power couple and he was into computer science as well as an excellent photographer.”
David Taylor Traill Nicholson, a chartered accountant’s son, was born in Montreal March 27, 1932. His parents divorced when he was still a child and his mother shipped him off to Sedbergh School, a Spartan boys boarding school in Montebello and then to Lower Canada College. Ron Robertson., Canada’s former ambassador to Finland, a family friend since childhood recalled David’s nickname as a boy was “lizard,” because of his ability to slip out of difficult situations. “He was extremely inventive, extremely creative. The basement in his house on Rosemount Ave. was the most amazing space. It had thunder and lightning, a river, a waterfall and rain. It was an extraordinary, playful and inventive space.”
When David was 18 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force where he became commander of the training school for NATO Pilots. There he expanded his horizons and developed his life-long interest in international affairs. He left the air force and flew as a commercial pilot with Trans Canada Airlines. In 1960 Nicholson joined Greenshields as a stock broker where he became a portfolio manager who proved to be so successful he wrote an investment advice column for the Gazette and went on to become one of the prime movers behind the founding of the options market at the Montreal Stock Exchange.
In the heady days leading up to Expo 67 he met Diana Thébaud in a snowstorm outside of Holt Renfrew and promptly invited her for a drink at the Ritz. The daughter of United States Navy. Vice Admiral Léo Hewlett Thébaud, she would become his life partner and wife for more than 50 years.
Their Wednesday Night Salons began in 1982 as a casual invitation to friends to meet Carl Beigie then the executive director of the C.D. Howe Institute who was commuting as a guest professor to teach a course in international trade at McGill University. It became a regular salon open to experts and pundits in all fields of endeavour from Canada and around the world and to politicians of all stripes. It was notable for the age-range of participants, with many friends of the Nicholson children in attendance. Evenings were provocative, animated, and occasionally heated but always fun. A sense of humour a pre-requisite for those who were invited. Only twice in more than 30 years was someone expelled for unseemly behaviour. Wednesday Night once even attracted the attention of CSIS agents curious to know whether a Russian diplomat who was present might have engaged the group in subversive activity.
All sessions were considered off the record, although most of the discussions were numbered and summaries published on David’s vast and eclectic website. Diana continues the tradition and Wednesday Night 1883 was a lighthearted and poignant evening in which regulars gathered to remember David.
Nicholson lent quiet support to charitable causes and relentlessly promoted projects undertaken by members of the extended Wednesday Night family. His enthusiastic support for individuals running for public office was based not on their political convictions but on his high regard for them as individuals. Among those who showed up at Wednesday Night were Jean Doré, Pierre Marc Johnson, Jean Charest, Stéphane Dion, Marc Garneau, Mélanie Joly, Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair. Former Quebec Minister, John Ciaccia, was a frequent participant.
As soon as he was diagnosed, he became an eager participant in clinical trials at the Jewish General Hospital/ McGill Memory Clinic under the direction of his good friend, cognitive neurologist Howard Chertkow, and was a vocal advocate for the Canadian Brain Bank Network.
He was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his community involvement.
David Nicholson was twice married, first to the late Shirley Douglas of Vancouver with whom he had two sons, Jamie and David, and then to Diana. Their two children, Marc (Jean Low) of Singapore and Fiona of Calgary along with Marc’s children Maya and Tebo, step-daughter Jeannette Whitton of Vancouver and her children, Ryan and Joelle are a far-flung but close-knit family.
A celebration of his life will be held at 3 pm. at the Mount Royal Funeral Complex on Friday April 27. Donations in David’s memory may be made to the Howard Chertkow Alzheimer Research Foundation, care of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.