Henry Morgentaler was remembered as a kind and compassionate man and "a hero for all Canadian women" at an invitation-only memorial service Friday night.
More than 100 women and a scattering of men filled the Robert H. Steen Community Centre to listen to tributes to the abortion-rights crusader, who died May 29. Security was hired in case anti-abortion protesters got wind of the event. There was no trouble.
Lori Johnson, executive director of Klinic and a former Morgentaler employee, remembered the violence of the anti-abortion protests in the late '80s. She recalled the shootings of abortion doctors, including one in Winnipeg.
"It was a very violent time," she said before the formal service began. "There were threats."
Johnson said her young children were approached and photographed in the playground of Laura Secord School.
"I feared for my family. Their photographs appeared on the front of some anti-abortion literature."
'It was a very violent time. There were threats' -- Lori Johnson, former Morgentaler employee, of the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s
She remains proud of the services provided to women seeking therapeutic abortions, even as police raided the clinic and arrested the staff and patients.
"We took exceptionally good, compassionate care of the women who came there. For those women who chose to terminate, they were well-cared for by an amazing team of professionals."
She said Morgentaler's confinement to a concentration camp (and the death of his mother at Auschwitz) influenced his work and vision.
When the camps were liberated, Morgentaler weighed 77 pounds and had lost all his teeth.
"Henry believed that babies born to women when they were wanted and loved, those babies were less likely to be murderers and rapists, less likely to grow up and build concentration camps."
He was unable to save his mother, Johnson said, "but he could help other women."
As a doctor in Quebec, Morgentaler saw women dying of sepsis after botched, illegal abortions.
His motto was "every mother a willing mother, every child a wanted child." It was repeated by all the speakers Friday night, who remembered his fierce battles to bring reproductive choice to Canadian women.
Dr. Suzanne Newman, an abortion provider who began her career as a volunteer in Morgentaler's Corydon Avenue clinic, called him "a man of infinite wisdom. He believed passionately that a woman has the right to control her body."
The service felt nostalgic, as women who fought in the trenches with Morgentaler 30 years ago remembered the fight and challenged a new generation not to become complacent. Newspaper clippings from three and four decades ago flashed on the wall as the speakers paid their tributes.
A bowl of badges emblazoned with slogans sat next to the guest book, a flower-filled vase and a portrait of the deceased. I grabbed one that reads "This is what a feminist looks like" for my daughter.
Newman, clearly grieving, said her friend was "a pleasure to be with. He had a wonderful singing voice. He was fun. He had a sense of humour. He was absolutely charming."
"He was a man of courage and bravery. He was also a man brimming with compassion."
There were no hints of the man who was reviled by many, seen as a wild-eyed devil who killed babies. Instead, the memorial guests heard stories of staff at restaurants who refused to let him pay for meals, of strangers who would send over bottles of wine in appreciation for his work and courage.
A picture of former governor general Micha´lle Jean presenting Morgentaler with the Order of Canada flashed on the wall.
Lynn Kroeker was the nurse-manager of the clinic. She spent a weekend in jail with the rest of the staff.
She wasn't sure she wanted to work with him. He persisted, and she flew to Montreal to look at his clinic there.
"I met this wonderful, wonderful man who immediately started telling me about his dream of reproductive choice."
She was impressed with "how much better" the treatment of women in Morgentaler's clinic was than in hospital. And then she quoted the motto: "Every mother a willing mother, every child a wanted child."
"He taught, be something about humanity," she said. "I just want to say a thank-you to Henry because he touched my life as he touched so many women's lives."
"He was a great man who changed my life," said Lori Johnson. "Together, with many of you in this room and with Henry, we made a difference and we continue to."