Ottawa – April 25, 2014 – Liberal MP Irwin Cotler paid tribute today to Herb Gray, his “mentor, colleague and close friend” for 40 years as the quintessential parliamentarian, the dean of Parliament in terms of length and quality of service, and “the ultimate mensch” who excelled in everything he undertook and did so with profound principle and humility.
Cotler cited two early examples of Gray’s contribution in which he was personally engaged. First, in the 1970’s, Gray – then a Cabinet Minister – agreed to be a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Economic Coercion and Discrimination, which Cotler chaired and which included such luminaries as former Supreme Court Justice Emmet Hall, former NDP Leader David Lewis, former Cabinet Minister Judy Lamarsh and former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Yves Fortier.
Said Cotler, “It was something for a Cabinet Minister to agree to be a member of such a citizen’s Commission – and be the most vocal one in it – when its work might well have resulted in Herb Gray being ‘at variance’ with his own government’s policy at the time.”
Second, Herb Gray made his good offices available to Cotler during the struggle for Soviet Jewry and the taking up of the case and cause of political prisoner Natan Sharansky. Again, as a Minister, he participated in the press conference on Sharansky’s behalf, arranged meetings with the Canadian Parliamentary Committee for Soviet Jewry, and facilitated a meeting with then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Said Cotler, “He made a singular contribution to one of the most important human rights struggles of the second half of the 20th century.”
Cotler remembered Herb Gray’s wit and humour which found expression when he left House Speaker Milliken somewhat perplexed by employing, in Yiddish, the term “Narishkeiten” (foolishness) in response to a comment from the other side of the House. “I was sitting close to Herb in the House when Speaker Milliken asked me what Herb had said. I said, Mr Speaker, it loses in translation.”
Cotler said he was also a longtime friend of Herb’s wife Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, with whom he attended McGill Law School, as well as his family, to whom he extended his deepest condolences.
Concluded Cotler, “May we continue to be inspired by his memory, and may that memory serve always as a blessing.”