Margo Schwartz’s eulogy for Irving

This is the eulogy Irving Schwartz’s eldest daughter Margo delivered at his funeral September 20, 2010, at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre:

I speak today on behalf of all of the children of Irving and Diana Schwartz, with sister Joanne at my side and brother David and Sister Stephanie with our dear mother, Diana.

For as long as I can remember, I have been in awe of my father, Irving Schwartz. I have often reflected, with gratitude, that by some lucky accident of birth I found myself to be his daughter. I adored and respected my father and cherished every moment we had together. Our father, Irving, was a great human being, a mensch, and he was a great teacher – one who taught and led by example.

Growing up with Irving as a father was an exciting adventure. Just getting in the car with him was thrilling! We always knew that he would take us somewhere interesting and that we would get there quickly. He would regale us with stories of all the exploits the Schwartz brothers had gotten up to in their youth and sing one of his favourite songs “In a quaint caravan, there’s a gypsy”- at the top of his lungs – famously off-key.

Dad worked a lot and he loved it. He never really stopped – he was too full of positive energy, creativity and a stunning ability to get things done. But we knew the importance he placed on family too.

When Dad came home from work the first question he would ask was, “Did you call your grandmother Rose today?” Nothing could proceed until we assured him that we had. And then, for 45 minutes of the day, our mother, Diana, would take the phone off the hook so that Dad, who was always on it, would not be distracted by the outside world and would focus on us.

At the dinner table, discussion was always lively. Our father would tell us about his day at work and engage us in political debates. One subject was forbidden and that was gossip. We never spoke negatively about people; Dad simply would not allow it.

We all loved school and he was very keen for us to do well in our studies. Occasionally, there would be some kind of difficulty with a teacher and we would complain to him, but he never once took our side. We would get very upset and question his loyalty, but he always told us the teacher was the teacher and we had probably done something to annoy them so we should look inside ourselves to solve the problem and not lay the blame elsewhere. These were important life lessons.

Dad loved to ride horses and took us trail-riding from an early age. He learned to ski so he could take us on the slopes. We took Sunday drives every week and we would always discover new parts of his beloved Cape Breton. If there was a new road he found, he wanted to explore it. If there was a new farm or a new business or new people out in the country, he wanted to find out how they were doing. And he took us along for the ride.

Our mother organized a trip to Europe for the family arranging visits to museums and castles, etc. Dad booked a visit to a Danish trout farm and had us come along to take notes. He was looking for new industry for Cape Breton and a family holiday was as good a time as any to pick up some tips.

He never stopped thinking about new ideas and business possibilities. Nor was he ever too busy to stop to talk to someone to find out what they were doing. He could ask some pretty direct questions, but nobody seemed to mind because he was so genuinely interested.

He had that magic way of connecting with people, whether for a few minutes or over a lifetime, when you were with him he made you feel special and valued.

Dad stressed to us the importance of “giving back” to the community. He was involved in many charitable activities. Many Sunday mornings, he would take us with him to visit his nursing home. He went down the hall greeting each of the residents separately and talking to them for a few moments. We followed suit. He was teaching us the importance of giving of our time, but we were getting a lot more back from all the interesting people we met there.

Our father’s love for his family knew no bounds. He was a treasured son, a faithful brother, a devoted husband, a loving father, a caring and concerned uncle and cousin and a truly wonderful grandfather.

The most important influence in his life was his mother, Rose and he always gave her credit for shaping him into the man he was.

He built a life for 52 years with his beloved wife and best friend, Diana. Theirs was a true partnership and he was forever grateful to our mother for all of her many sterling qualities and for the wonderful, and very neat and tidy, home she made for him. That was exactly the way he liked it.

Over the past two years our parents have spent a lot of time in the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and in doctors’ offices. Our mother took care of all his appointments and looked after him so well. He said it was just like at their wedding, he let Mum make all the arrangements and all he had to do was “show up.” Theirs was a great love and his loss will be greatest for our mother.

Dad loved each one of his four children individually and always wanted us to find happiness and fulfillment. He reveled in each of our accomplishments and suffered for any of our disappointments. He could sometimes be less than subtle in advising us on how to deal with various life situations. But all advice was offered through a prism of genuine concern and love. As we got older, we could always call Dad if we had a problem or a concern. He was always there for us. He was a wonderful listener and a source of sage advice. We shall all miss his wise counsel.

He was also a grateful father-in-law – so pleased to have sons-in-law, Adrian Noskwith and Brian Brophey, treating his daughters so well. And he really treasured the last two and one half years working with Adrian and took great comfort in knowing that he was leaving the businesses in his safe hands.

Irving got no greater joy than from his four grandchildren, Rachel, Sophie, Toby and Rose. They were the light of his life and he had a sense of wonderment watching them grow. He was always eager to spend time with them and had a wonderful summer this year with many visits with them. If he had any regrets, I think it would be that he was not able to be with us longer to see his grandchildren grow up and take their place in the world.

Our father, Irving, had many achievements to his credit, and he was very pleased to have been recognized for some of them. But he was at heart a modest man, a kind man, a man without ego and a man of many anonymous good deeds. He was a man of integrity; his word was his bond.

I think he would have been very humbled to see so many of you here today, but in some ways he would have been embarrassed by all the fuss. He was not driven by fame or fortune, he just wanted to make the world a better place. He said that all he knew was that you live until you die and then you are dead for a long time, so you had better make each day count – and that is exactly what he did.

Our father died in the early hours of the holiest day of the Jewish year – on the morning of Yom Kippur/the Day of Atonement. It is said that Tsadikkim, which is the Hebrew word for people who lead a righteous life, die on Yom Kippur. Maimonides, the great Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, defines a righteous person as one whose merit surpasses his inequity. Someone, who over the course of their life does more good than harm. And by that measure, there can be no doubt that Irving led a righteous life.

Three weeks ago, we went for our last Sunday drive together. This time, he let me drive – I felt the shift in the generations. We talked about this and that and quietly enjoyed each other’s company. We were headed for Main-a-Dieu but as usual, Dad wanted to take a different route. He said, “Let s go via Marion Bridge.” The clouds opened and the rain fell. Afterwards, we marveled at the rainbow and the beauty of Cape Breton. We stopped in Albert Bridge – as Dad said – a great place to get a bit of ice cream and meet a few people. Then we drove to Main- a-Dieu. The wet weather stopped us from walking along the boardwalk but along the highway Dad noticed a tree down on one of the cable lines. “I’ll have to call Seaside as soon as I get back,” he said.

It was another successful family outing, with a little business thrown in.

Thank you for being such a wonderful father, Dad. We shall miss you.