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"EDE" 2003 Obituary


EDELSTEIN o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-02-07 published
By Leah KESHET Friday, February 7, 2003, Page A20
Mathematician, husband, father, grandfather. Born March 21, 1917, in Mlawa, Poland. Died January 27 in Vancouver, British Columbia, of natural causes, aged 85.
Michael EDELSTEIN was born to a respected, well-to-do, traditional Jewish family: His grandfather, Zisha ZILBERBERG, owned a large brick tenement building and a grocery store; his father, Baruch, prospered in the leather trade.
As a young child, Michael received a Jewish education. During his impressionable teen years, Michael discovered a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species abandoned in his grandfather's attic by a fleeing soldier. The discovery led him toward a life of science, and away from religion. As an adolescent, he excelled in mathematics and physics. He was an avid reader, astute in current events, and a scholar of history, who retained detailed knowledge of turbulent events of the two centuries spanned by his life.
Rising anti-Semitism in Poland of the 1920s and 1930s blocked higher education for Jews (via "Numerus Clausus" -- the quota system). His sister Sarenka persuaded Michael to study abroad at the fledgling Hebrew University of Jerusalem (in then-Palestine). He arrived alone in that bewildering land in 1937. There he struggled with the language and culture, and was beset by loneliness and homesickness. Ultimately, this dislocation spared his life. The firestorm that erupted over Europe in 1939 was to consume his family in the Holocaust.
On the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew U., conditions were rough, stipends meagre, and hunger and deprivation were rampant. War interrupted his studies: With the onset of the Second World War, Michael enlisted in the British Army, serving in Italy and Egypt. He later fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, and participated in defense research.
The 1950s were years of happiness and rejuvenation. He was reunited, in Israel, with his sister, the single family member who had survived Auschwitz. In 1951, Michael married a warm, caring, beautiful native bride, Tikvah SEGAL; two years later, their only daughter was born. The couple struggled to make ends meet while completing higher degrees, Michael a mathematics D.Sc and Tikvah a botany Ph.D.
In 1962, the family undertook a journey, through Ithaca, New York, and Michigan, which eventually led them, in 1964, to a new home in Canada. Michael was recruited as a mathematics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he became a founder of the mathematics graduate and research program. He inspired colleagues, trained students, carried out research, and taught there for more than two decades before his retirement and relocation to British Columbia.
Michael saw his own life as a series of personal losses: of his beloved mother Ester-Leah (when he was 6), of his young wife (at age 51), his sister in later life, and many others. By age 85, he had outlived an entire generation of kin. He struggled with internal demons in personal interactions, often leaving Friends and loved ones grieving over sudden, inexplicable estrangements. A miraculous reunion in recent years, with his once-estranged daughter who had followed his footsteps to become a mathematician, led to a close bond. It remained unbroken until his dying day, January 27, 2003, in Vancouver.
Michael was an exceptional chess player (gaining the title of International Master in Correspondence Chess in the 1990s), but mathematics was his first love and lifelong passion; he never tired of transmitting that passion to students and even to casual acquaintances. While infirm with Parkinson's disease at an advanced age, he took pleasure in his mathematics books, and braved some of the most notoriously challenging problems in mathematics.
Leah KESHET is Michael's daughter.

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EDEN o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-11-26 published
A scholar and a gentle man
'Fine example of a great Canadian' who founded Ontario's Brock University was once private secretary to prime minister Mackenzie KING
By Ron CSILLAG, Special to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - Page R9
In an almost Zen-like fashion, James GIBSON knew the value of not acting. In the late 1960s, when a group of student radicals seized part of Brock University, hoping to be dragged away kicking and screaming, Dr. GIBSON, who had helped found the institution a few years earlier, reacted in a way no other university president did when faced with the same problem: He did nothing. The protesters, he reasoned, may have had legitimate grievances, but their unseemly actions offended his firm sense of propriety. In time, the students simply went away.
It was an effective, though uncharacteristic, action for a man who embodied Brock's Latin motto: "Surgite," freely translated as "push on." That he did, through some 65 rich years of advancing higher education and in public service, most notably as a private secretary to former prime minister Mackenzie KING, whose penchant for soothsaying and assorted eccentricities Dr. GIBSON kept mainly to himself until later in life.
Just five days before his death in Ottawa on October 23 at the age of 91, Dr. GIBSON was doing what he loved: Watching a new group of graduates receive their diplomas at the fall convocation of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, the school he had launched as founding president in 1963.
At a recent memorial service at Brock, David ATKINSON, the university's president and vice-chancellor, recalled a man whose attributes a strong moral fibre, clarity of thought and a general uprightness, all tempered by a warm and gentle touch -- harkened to a quaint, bygone era. "It's unlikely we will meet anyone like him again," Dr. ATKINSON said.
In the House of Commons on October 27, Dr. GIBSON was praised by St. Catharines Liberal member of parliament Walt LASTEWKA as "a fine example of a great Canadian."
Dr. GIBSON, whose knowledge of Canadian history and government were legend, was in the news this past summer as the oldest of over 1,000 Rhodes Scholars who flew to England for a five-day bash honouring the centenary of the trust. With his brother William, also a Rhodes Scholar, Dr. GIBSON dedicated a re-leaded stained-glass window at the chapel of Oxford's New College.
A normally discreet man, he had sharp words for former prime minister Brian MULRONEY, not an Oxford graduate, who surprised guests at the alumni dinner -- and raised a few eyebrows -- when he took a seat on the podium alongside Oxonians Bill CLINTON and Tony BLAIR, and guest Nelson MANDELA. Many alumni, Dr. GIBSON included, felt that Mr. MULRONEY, who had been invited by The Independent newspaper chain, had no business being there. Though upset, Dr. GIBSON retained his dignity, saying simply, "I was offended."
James Alexander GIBSON was born in Ottawa, in 1912, to Canadian-born parents of Irish-Scottish stock with strong Methodist and Quaker leanings. Raised in Victoria, he graduated with a B.A. in history from the University of British Columbia at age 18. Less than a year later, he was one of the youngest boys at Oxford.
"That was the real dividing line in my life," he told The Globe and Mail last July. "The economic depression was beginning to take over and some of the graduates in my year at University of British Columbia ended up digging ditches, but I had a guaranteed income for three years."
The annual stipend was only £400 but it enabled Dr. GIBSON to live comfortably and travel to the rest of Europe when he wasn't studying modern history, debating in the Oxford Union Society and keeping wicket for the New College cricket squad, the Nomads.
Back in Ottawa and armed with a doctorate in history, he joined the Department of External Affairs. On his second day on the job, he was whisked to the prime minister's office for a six-month secondment that lasted nine years. Mr. KING, who was also External Affairs minister, blocked Dr. GIBSON's promotions to postings abroad three times because "he told me I stopped him getting into trouble."
The prime minister was a notorious taskmaster, calling on his assistant to work most evenings and weekends to draft letters and speeches. Throughout, "Dad never complained about anything," said his daughter Julia MATTHEWS. " But as he got older, he loosened up a little."
According to his daughter, he came to describe the famously erratic leader as "a very grumpy man and a very lonely man, insensitive, and quite damaging to work for."
Ultimately, it occurred to the clan that perhaps the unmarried prime minister was simply jealous of Dr. GIBSON's status as a beloved family man and father of three children. "Whenever we went on a family holiday, Dad always got called back," remembered Ms. MATTHEWS.
But a high point came in the spring of 1945, when Dr. GIBSON accompanied Mr. KING and 380 other delegates to San Francisco and the founding of the United Nations. During the historic two-month conference, Dr. GIBSON got personal glimpses of such leaders as the Soviet Union's Andrei GROMYKO and Britain's Anthony EDEN, but the task at hand, he later recalled, was to keep the Canadian prime minister "on the rails."
Fearing he would never advance in the public service, Dr. GIBSON resigned in 1947 and took a teaching post at Ottawa's Carleton University, where he later served as the first dean of arts and science and deputy to the president. By the early 1960s, he was courted by a group of community leaders in the Niagara peninsula to establish Brock University. When he began as founding president, the school had seven faculty (known as "the magnificent seven"), 29 students and a "library" consisting of a shelf of books. Today, it boasts more than 15,000 students and 47,000 alumni.
His first order of business at Brock was the creation of a library.
Now housed in the campus's Schmon Tower, it has become something of a landmark on the Niagara Escarpment. Dr. GIBSON, fondly known by faculty as "James A.," remained as Brock's president until 1974. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1992, and the library was named after him in 1996.
He was also a leading figure in the Unitarian faith, serving for a time as chaplain of the Unitarian Congregation of Niagara.
Asked what dinner-table conversation was like at home, Ms. MATTHEWS sighed good-naturedly. "Oh, God. There was a lot of current events. He had all the answers. He was always lecturing, but he could be really charming." Even after his vision started to fail, he travelled, read and wrote. "He never felt old."
After moving from his beloved St. Catharines to an Ottawa retirement home, Dr. GIBSON lectured residents on "governors-general I have known."
Dr. GIBSON was predeceased by his wife of 57 years, Caroline (née STEIN,) and leaves three children, seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, his brother, and a sister, Isobel SEARLS.
His final days were summed up poetically by Josephine MEEKER, a former professor at Brock. After attending the university's convocation last month, Dr. GIBSON "went for a long walk, returned to his residence, went into the lounge area, took off his coat and folded it up, put it on the back of his chair, sat down, folded his hands in his lap, closed his eyes, and died."

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