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"BJA" 2003 Obituary


BJARNASON o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-04-19 published
BABITS, George Joseph B.A.Sc., C.A.
It is with profound sadness that the family announces the passing of a beloved husband, father and grandfather. In his 68th year, George died peacefully on April 15, 2003, surrounded by his loving family, following a courageous and inspiring 3-year battle with kidney cancer. Having overcome an initial 4-month prognosis, he never gave up the fight.
George will live forever in the hearts of his beloved wife and soul mate of 42 years, Katherine, his devoted sons George (Wendy), Thomas (Trisha) and Christopher (Jennifer). His grandchildren Monica, George Matthew, Paul and John will all miss their dear ''Papa.'' The family regrets that he will miss the births of his twin grandchildren due in less than two weeks. Also mourned by his brother Pal, sister Anna and many nephews and nieces in Hungary, as well as his many Friends in Canada and around the world. George was predeceased by his parents and his brother Laszlo.
Born in Debrecen, Hungary, George was a champion weightlifter in his youth, winning numerous regional and national titles. While attending the University of Sopron, he left for Canada as a refugee during the 1956 Revolution. He completed his degree in geological engineering at the University of Toronto, and went on to become a Chartered Accountant. George began his career at the accounting firm Ernst and Ernst, followed by more than 27 years at Imperial Oil Ltd., where he had the opportunity to combine his scientific knowledge with his financial acumen. After retiring from Imperial in 1991, he continued to work in his own accounting practice until his death. Throughout his life, he generously volunteered for numerous organizations, including many in the Canadian-Hungarian community. His sense of charity seemed to know no bounds. He always gave of his time, energy, knowledge and expertise, freely to those in need.
George's greatest passion was his family and his legacy will live on, because it was as a husband and father that he had his greatest success. His love and devotion to his family was boundless, and he has left his children with a great appreciation for the importance of family, education and respect for others. He was the greatest role model that his sons could have possibly asked for, and he will forever be in their hearts. Father we love you.
Many thanks to the fine medical professionals who helped George in his battle and treated him with exceptional care and respect: Doctors BUKOWSKI and COHEN of the Cleveland Clinic, Doctors TSIHLIAS and Waddel of the University Health Network, Doctors KUGLER and STRAUSS of Gottingen, Germany and their pioneering vaccine therapy program, and Doctors BJARNASON and SMITH and the team at the Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre.
The family will receive Friends at the R.S. Kane Funeral Home (6150 Yonge Street, at Goulding, south of Steeles), on Tuesday, April 22, 2003 from 7: 30-9:00 p.m. The funeral mass will be held on Wednesday, April 23, 2003, at 11: 00 a.m. at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church (432 Sheppard Ave. E.). Donations to the Sunnybrook Foundation Fund #9182 To Support Kidney Cancer Research (In Memory of George J. Babits) c/o Dr. Georg Bjarnason, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4N 3M5, would be appreciated. Messages of Condolence may be placed at
''Szivunkben Orokke elni fogsz!''

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BJARNASON o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-12-11 published
GELBER, Sylva Malka, OC, LL.D.
93 years old, Sylva Malka GELBER, whose years of activism in pre-Israel Palestine eventually propelled her to be the first director of the Canadian Department of Labour's Women's Bureau, died on December 9th, 2003, of complications from a stroke. She was 93 and lived in Ottawa.
During the heady years of pioneering in gains for women's rights and Medicare in Canada during the 1960s and 70s, she travelled the country, never shrill and always reasoned in her campaign for equality for women in the country's labour force. She took this pragmatic approach to the United Nations where she represented Canada on the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women between 1970 - 74.
A social and industrial activist at heart, she never lost her zest for a good argument on those issues which had been part of her adult life since she left her comfortable Toronto home in the early 1930s for the turmoil of Jerusalem and Palestine. There she became the first graduate of the Va'ad Leumi School of Social Work - now the Faculty of Social Work of the Hebrew University - and took on jobs incongruous with her upbringing which had included schooling at Havergal College, a private girl's school.
She worked in Palestine during the Mandate as a family counsellor, a probation officer and medical social worker at Hadassah Hospital, and then with the Palestine Department of Labour from 1942 - 48 when she returned to Canada. The adventuresome 15 years Sylva GELBER lived in the turmoil of Palestine are chronicled with affection, awe and frankness in ''No Balm in Gilead: A Personal Retrospective of Mandate Days in Palestine'' published in 1989. By the time she moved back to Canada, she could switch effortlessly among Hebrew and Arabic and English which impressed no one in bureaucratic Ottawa, but did startle the Capital's stuffy side, she often noted mischievously.
Her deep red lipstick and nail polish when paired with her fast sports cars belied the image of the traditional Ottawa civil servant she could never be, despite distinguished and proud accomplishments in promoting federal health insurance and Medicare until they became the law of the land.
Along the way, she accepted many appointments to serve Canada at International Labour Organization conferences, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations General Assembly. She was a member of the Order of Canada and was awarded honorary degrees from several universities including Queen's, Memorial, Trent, Guelph and Mount St. Vincent.
Sylva Malka GELBER was born in 1910 in Toronto to Sara (MORRIS) and Louis GELBER. Her father, a survivor of pogroms in Eastern Europe, was determined that her four brothers, all of whom attended Upper Canada College, and she, all receive worldly educations beyond their specific Jewish community. She always admired her father for this farsightedness in encouraging his children to become part of a broader society.
At the University of Toronto, she produced plays. She sang spirituals on a Toronto radio station, but her parents would have none of a show business career. She was packed off to Columbia University in New York; but even that did not satisfy her rambunctious spirit and soon she was on her way to distant Palestine.
Never domesticated as women of her day usually were, she paid little attention to her kitchen pantry when she finally settled in Ottawa; but always gregarious, she loved to entertain around the piano which she played by ear and with great gusto. Her library of records and Compact Disks, was always in use as music filled her life; and she has endowed an important annual prize through The Sylva Gelber Music Foundation, which is granted to an outstanding young Canadian musician at the early stage of his or her career.
In retirement, she energetically participated in the Canadian Institute of International Affairs and the Wednesday Luncheon Club of former cabinet ministers and civil servants, such as her neighbour, Jack PICKERSGILL, who thrashed over current political issues.
Sylva GELBER was predeceased by her four brothers, Lionel, Marvin, Arthur and Shalome Michael. She is survived by her four nieces and their husbands, Nance GELBER and Dan BJARNASON, Patty and David RUBIN, Judith GELBER and Dan PRESLEY, and Sara and Richard CHARNEY, all of Toronto; her sister-in-law, Marianne GELBER of New York; four great nephews and a great niece, Gerald and Noah RUBIN, and Adam, Andrew and Laura CHARNEY; as well as cousins Ruth JEWEL and David EISEN; David ALEXANDOR, and Ruth GELBER all of Toronto; and Ivan CHORNEY and Betsy RIGAL, both of Ottawa. At Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel, 2401 Steeles Avenue West (1 light west of Dufferin) for service on Thursday, December 11, 2003 at 12: 00 noon. Interment Beth Tzedec Memorial Park.

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BJARNASON o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-12-18 published
Sylva Malka GELBER
By Dan BJARNASON, Thursday, December 18, 2003 - Page A28
Pioneer; amateur blues singer; British sports-car zealot. Born December 4, 1910, in Toronto. Died December 9 in Ottawa, of complications from a stroke, aged 93.
She'd wheel around Ottawa in her Jaguar, driving by ear, oblivious to her terrified passengers (me, for instance) as the scenery in sedate Rockcliffe Park whipped by in a blur.
Sylva GELBER lived her whole life on the other side of the speed limit. And it was fun to be with her for even part of the ride.
She was a pioneer from the same mould as those who settled the Canadian Prairies.
She was on the ramparts in the battles for women's' rights at a time when no one had much of a roadmap.
She was an architect of what became our hospital system.
She was exhausting to keep up with.
Sylva grew up in a stodgy Toronto of the 1920s, went to a private girls school and could have settled into a comfortable life -- and we'd have never heard of her. But she dropped out of the University of Toronto through sheer boredom, tried her hand at Yiddish theatre, and sang blues and spirituals on the radio. None of this took. So, at 22, in 1932, she went off to Palestine where Jewish pioneers there were struggling to build a new society. Sylva wanted to be part of it.
She intended to stay one year, but stayed for 15. Sylva worked as a family counsellor, probation officer, and social worker. She knew the giants on the scene: Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, David Ben Gurion. During the Second World War, she listened to the British Broadcasting Corporation night after night as Rommel's Afrika Corps plunged forward. Rommel was stopped on the doorstep of Alexandria, but it was a close-run thing. Sylva, decades later, chronicled these times in her thrilling memoir, No Balm In Gilead: A Personal Retrospective of Mandate Days in Palestine.
Deeply committed to a Jewish presence in this ancient land, she also was immensely fond of the Palestinian Arabs, their language, history and culture. It broke her heart that in the late 1940s, the two peoples slid into war. She left on the eve of Israeli independence, with bullets whistling around her ears, taken to the airport in a wild dash in a taxi -- driven by a sympathetic Christian Arab.
Back in Canada, she entered the civil service in Ottawa with the departments of health and labour and helped to craft this nation's first hospitalization program. She became the first head of the women's bureau in the Department of Labour. She saw women's equality as a simple uncomplicated issue of fairness and decency. She wasn't shrill. She didn't harangue. And she was hard as nails.
She represented Canada at a string of United Nations conferences. She established an endowment for young Canadian musicians, many of whom went on to great prominence. She was a member of the Order of Canada. The impatient young kid who never graduated, ended up with honorary degrees from a half-dozen universities.
She loved her fast cars and drove them with total disregard for the laws of physics. And she was utterly unreasonable about the colour red: red (scarlet, really) lipstick, red nail polish, red scarves. If she had been an American, Hollywood would have made her into a movie.
She set up an elaborate recording system at home and taped herself belting out innumerable Broadway songs just for the fun of it. Sylva never got the Ethel Merman completely out of her system.
In early December, my wife and I had planned to see the wacky musical, The Producers, when it opened in Toronto. But then Sylva died. We were to see the show on a Wednesday night; her funeral would be the next morning. What to do? We went to The Producers anyway. We sensed Sylva was there, roaring away with the rest of us.
Dan BJARNASON is Silva's nephew-in-law.

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