Good-bye to Harold Heft: at 50 years young he leaves us too soon
July 26, 2015
It is always particularly difficult to learn about the passing of someone you have known most of your life. Such was the case this week when Harold Heft lost his year and a half battle with a brain tumour. He was only 50 years young, happily married and the father of two.
While Harold moved to Toronto a number of years ago, we always stayed in touch. He grew up in Côte Saint-Luc as a close friend of my younger brother Chuck and as such he was at the house very often. Harold travelled in the same circles as us - the son of Ruby and Eddie and the brother of Joel and Richie. What I remember most is his happy go lucky nature - always smiling, with his trademark dimple and absolutely full of laughs and personality. We called him "Hefty boy!"
Harold became a very prolific writer, penning his own book and often gracing the pages of different newspapers. He also carved a successful career for himself as a fundraiser in the health sector. The last time we actually sat down face to face and talked was at his dad Eddie's shiva three years ago. Emails followed, but that all stopped when he fell ill. I reached out to him via friends and family, but he was not in the frame of mind to communicate back and forth with the endless array of people trying to reach out.
Below is a beautiful obituary which appeared in The Montreal Gazette. Rest in peace Hefty!
From an early age, Harold Heft understood the unpredictability of life and therefore how important it is to preserve and share our stories. At age 10, he had lifesaving open-heart surgery and spent a summer convalescing while friends went to camp. That episode made a deep impression, and made many future experiences over the ensuing 40 years all the more sweet.
In February, 2014, Harold was suddenly diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. With enormous courage and determination he faced a daunting prognosis and grueling medical treatment. Despite his valiant efforts to beat terrible odds, on July 23, 2015 Harold died peacefully in his home, surrounded by those who loved him most.
Harold was born in Montreal on November 19, 1964, to Ruby (née Lenet) and Edward Heft, Z"L.
He attended Wagar High School in Côte Saint-Luc, and then took three degrees in literature: a BA from McGill in 1987, an MA from Université de Montréal in 1989, and a PhD from Western in 1994. (Those who knew his playful sense of humour can almost hear him say: "I took the degrees, sure, but I also worked hard for them.")
After an appointment as Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at the Halbert Centre, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he started what would become a highly successful career as a senior fundraising and communications professional at University of Toronto (Faculty of Engineering), Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Hospital for Sick Kids, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and North York General Hospital. Throughout his career he built new, innovative programs to engage major philanthropy, always looking for the best way to "tell the story" of the causes for which he worked tirelessly. He knew if the story moved minds and hearts, people would act with generosity, and the world might be a better place. Harold also loved to bring people together. He inspired and mentored various young professionals and was unfailingly generous about making connections for friends and colleagues. Even in the last months of his life, he was helping people find jobs and offering career advice.
A continuous strand of his own story was his writing, editing and publishing. He published three books: On Your Mark: Getting Better Grades Without Working Harder or Being Smarter (published as The Savvy Student in the U.S.); Build a Better Book Club; and The Shape of This Dying: Remembering Alexander Bercovitch. Over the past year he was co-editing a new book of collected personal stories of trauma and transformation, work on which continues.
He also published many poems; articles and reviews on new and established Canadian and international writers; jazz, rock, folk, blues and pop music; science and neurology; and of course, on baseball and in particular, his beloved Expos. His work appeared in The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, National Post, Toronto Star, Tablet, Jewish Daily Forward, among many others.
Harold believed strongly in tikkun olam, the Jewish tradition of helping 'to heal the world'. In addition to serving on the Board of Writers' Trust of Canada, New Israel Fund, Harold Green Theatre, and the Advisory Board of the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Children's Grief Centre, Harold was a counsellor at Camp Erin, a summer camp for bereaved children. He volunteered for 10 years at Holy Blossom Temple on the Out of the Cold program, rarely missing a shift. Even while an outpatient at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre he volunteered weekly in the library of Holland Bloorview Children's Rehab Centre.
Harold was predeceased by his father Edward and is survived by his mother, Ruby Heft, the two of whom were married over 50 years; his beloved wife of 16 years, Suzanne, and his sons Sam and John, to whom he was completely and absolutely devoted; by brothers Joel (Rachel), Richard (Martha) and nephews Jared, Ross, Jacob and A.J.; by mother-in-law Viviane Decker, and brothers-in-law David Mitchell (Jenny) and Chris Mitchell. He will be deeply missed by those who loved him and by a core group of friends, far and wide, whom he also considered "family."
Although he lived in Toronto for many years, he was a Montrealer to his core and his favourite journey was crossing the bridge back to the island of Montreal that he called home.
Sincere thanks to the medical teams at the Gerry and Nancy Pencer Brain Tumour Centre and the Temmy Latner Palliative Care Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as Ashlee and Jonathan and all those compassionate care-givers who helped care for Harold at home.
Funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, 2015 at Holy Blossom Temple, 1950 Bathurst Street. Interment at Holy Blossom Temple section of Pardes Shalom cemetery. Shiva immediately following and through to Thursday at 64 Oriole Road 2:00-4:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m. (Prayers at 8:00 p.m.). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Harold's memory to the McGill University Library, c/o Donation Records, 1430 Peel Street, Montréal, QC H3A 3T3 (514)-398-2787.
Fifty years was not long enough for us to have Harold in our lives, or indeed for Harold himself to tell his full story. In his book The Shape of this Dying he wrote a poem about driving back to Montreal with painter Alexander Bercovitch's great-granddaughter after attempting to see a Bercovitch painting at the National Gallery. The poem begins: "You and I are finally silent. / The highway is linear and automatic and / we are lost in the knowledge that / this one journey will end / before we can find even one more / of the stories."