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This article was published 24/2/2011 (3282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg's legal community is mourning the loss of a legend.
Harry Walsh, who was proud to call himself the oldest working lawyer in Canada, died Wednesday evening at the age of 97.
"Icon is probably too mild a word to describe Harry Walsh and his career," said Hymie Weinstein, a senior partner in Myers Weinberg LLP. "I don't think it's going to be matched."
Called to the Manitoba bar in 1937, Walsh became one of the most respected lawyers in Manitoba and indeed all of Canada during his 71-year career. He was presented with the Order of Canada in 2010.
He said the proudest accomplishment of his career was his central role in having the death penalty abolished in Canada in 1976.
"I was responsible for that and I want to take the credit for that... I never had a hanging in any case where I was the senior lawyer. We have no right to take the life of anybody," he said in an interview several months ago.
Even though he was at an age when most of his contemporaries were long retired, in nursing homes or dead, Walsh continued to handle hundreds of active files right up until the end. He was usually the first one in the doors of the Portage Avenue offices of Walsh & Co. each morning.
"I shall never retire. I shall go out with my boots on," he said. "I love the profession that I'm in and I've loved every minute of every day that I've been in it."
He recently attributed his longevity to abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.
"And luck," he said with a smile.
During the brief period of his life before he found his calling, Walsh sold the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Tribune newspapers at the corner of River Avenue and Osborne Street for a nickel each. A few years later, he worked in a candy factory for $5 a week to pay for his $125 annual law school tuition.
Weinstein said he used to skip classes when he was in law school back in the mid-1960s if word spread that Walsh was going to be in court that day. He'd have an extra spring in his step if he had heard Walsh was going to be in front of a jury.
"You were sitting there spellbound on his examination, especially the cross-examination of witnesses, and the way in which he addressed the jury. He was no doubt the dean of criminal law in Manitoba. Nobody came close to Harry Walsh," he said.
Weinstein said he only had one reaction when he was a Crown attorney and he would find out Walsh was going to be on the other side.
"You knew you were in trouble. It didn't matter how strong the case, you better be prepared. You knew he was going to try to outshine you and most times he did. He did it in a very ethical manner, though. He was a gentleman throughout. Even though he was on the opposite side, he was a pleasure to deal with. It was quite an intellectual exercise being in court with him," he said.
Walsh was a prominent member of Winnipeg's Jewish community. Among his many accomplishments was co-founding the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba in 1964. Back then, 100 people put in $100 each to help get it off the ground. Today, it has $71 million to dole out to worthy causes around the province.
"We've lost a hugely important man who was a very well-known and highly regarded member of our community," said Marsha Cowan, CEO of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba.
"The respect he commanded — in the legal community, in the Jewish community and in the general community — was very significant. It's a very big loss."