A tip of the hat to my old friend, Harry

Harry-RankinToday is the 14th anniversary of Harry Rankin’s passing.

Many of you may know that Harry Rankin is my hero and mentor. I know it sounds a bit corny to say it, but he really did have a heart of gold. He also had the most unbelievable work ethic, and he combined these qualities with a very practical approach to life. But most importantly, Harry had a passionate commitment to justice and fairness.

You could write a very good book about Harry — he was one of those once-in-a-lifetime individuals who had a profound impact on the legal profession, City Council, the city and myself.

When I was a very young man in third year at UBC, Harry wrote a letter of support that got me into law school there. Any other lawyer or politician as busy as he was would have found it easy to toss my request for a letter into the round file. Not Harry.

I was just 22 years old then and he’d already had a huge impact on my political development. In those days there was no HandyDART as it exists today. A number of us had been lobbying the City of Vancouver to improve specialized transportation for folks like me who couldn’t use public transit, which at that time had no ramps or lifts. To top things off, fares for the existing service, which was operated on a charity model by the then-named Lions Society for Crippled Children, were five times that of public transit.

Every time we appeared at City Council, one alderman (as they were called then) — namely Harry — stood head and shoulders above the rest of council in a league literally unto himself.

Watching council debate the various issues on the agenda before ours came up was a sight to behold. Rambling, meandering, pompous nothings so far from the issue at hand. Observers, myself included, would lose track of what on Earth was being debated. Then Harry would speak.

In mere seconds he would summarize the debate and frame it in such a compelling way that no one could argue with his conclusions. It made it very difficult for the rest of council to vote against him, even if they wanted to.

In spite of the fact that Harry had an incredibly busy law practice and was widely acknowledged as the hardest working City Councillor, he always made time for any constituent regarding any issue — no matter how seemingly small — including those of us advocating for what was to become HandyDART.

Harry’s profound impact on me didn’t end there. Three years later it was almost impossible for me to find an articling law position. I really could not fault the numerous lawyers who turned me down — an articling law student in many ways is nothing more than a glorified gofer. And I’m a terrible gofer! I’m also not much use to a lawyer looking for someone to do research as carrying, placing and opening books is not my forte given my limited arm function.

Finally, I did get an articling position with a lawyer who turned out to be an ambulance chaser. He worked out of his own mansion in Point Grey and didn’t want me there, so instead he put me in the law library five days a week where I was to do legal research. But I was so unproductive that he fired me.

Harry came to my rescue as he had for so many other young people. He hired me to complete my articling and gave me criminal cases. These were perfect for me because the cases were won or lost on counsel’s ability to think quickly on one’s feet.

Often, he’d pop into my office in one of his 30-second lunchtime appearances — “Hi. How are you? Here’s a file for you.” He’d toss it on my desk and would be through the door by the time I glanced at it. I’d yell out after him, “When’s the trial?” He’d be just about out of sight when he’d look at his watch and look back over his shoulder saying, “In about 90 minutes.”

No big deal for Harry. He could think on his feet and realize what the issue at hand was in a heartbeat.

Harry was deeply committed to not just a better and fairer city but also to a better and fairer world that was all about justice. He committed his entire life to that struggle.

Harry-Rankin-back-in-the-dayblkfrmeThe photos you see here — one of Harry when he was about 60, and the other when he was about 20 — are on my credenza at work right in front of me. I make eye contact with Harry throughout the day, every day.

Fourteen years after his passing, he inspires, motivates and guides me as much as he did then. I can’t help but think how positively we all could impact the issues facing Vancouver today if we stood true to Harry’s values.

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2 Responses to A tip of the hat to my old friend, Harry

  1. Anne Roberts says:

    Tim, thanks for sharing this story of your friendship with Harry and your admiration for him. I was surprised you didn’t mention the crowd-funding campaign to complete a documentary on his life: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-rankin-file-legacy-of-a-radical#/ I thought it was such an important project that I did make a donation. No matter how one felt about Harry — politically or personally — there’s no question that he made a significant impact on Vancouver. That story needs to be told. I’m not sure if people can still contribute, but they do need more money to get the film made. If you follow the link, you can see the promo and see the promise of it.

  2. Wendy Holm says:

    Very nice – and fitting – tribute Tim. How good of you to take the time to write it… Harry Rankin was truly an amazing man…

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