Harry Laurie (D.D.S.) Gelfant

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Harry Laurie (D.D.S.) Gelfant May 31, 1923 - April 6, 2013 At home, on April 6th, 2013. Husband, father and grandfather, dentist, outdoorsman, athlete, mentor, community leader, Herschel Lazar (Harry Laurie) Gelfant stood under five foot nine, but was a towering personality. Born in Rosthern, Saskatchewan to immigrants (Joseph and Brindl) who came to Canada to escape pogroms, his is the story of the many western Canadian Jews who created immense success out of the tatters of history.

During The Depression, his family moved to Winnipeg, where his mother plucked chickens to earn money to try to feed her family. With a garlic clove around his neck toward off illness, Harry delivered the birds to?her customers on bicycle. A champion speed skater, Harry attended St.John's Tech High School in Winnipeg, and the University of Manitoba. He enlisted, but as Navy telegrapher and bandsmen, did not see battle.

Discharged in 1945, he applied to The University of Toronto Dental School, but was refused, because the quota for Jews was filled. So, he took the train from Winnipeg to Toronto, and dressed in his military uniform, forced his way into the dean's office, demanded and got a place in the class.

On graduation in 1949, he married Maxine Shirley Cohen back in Winnipeg, whom he thought was from the better side of the tracks. Three children (Roberta, Benjamin and Daniel ) were born. Harry created a thriving practice in Winnipeg and a rich life together with Maxine.

He fought with Crohn's disease, and every underwriter refused him life insurance because of it. So, early on, on his father-in-law's advice, he turned to real estate investments to protect his family's future. Active in community and professional affairs, Harry also built a cottage for his family at Falcon Lake and joined his pals at a fishing lodge in Northern Manitoba on just about every weekend from spring thaw until first snowfall.

But it wasn't enough, and so, in 1969, midway through his 40s, he packed up the family and moved west to Vancouver, for the skiing, boating and broader professional horizons. He specialized in prosthetic dentistry and, as a pioneer of new technologies and techniques, and was one of the first to recognize that all dental work had to respect and protect the natural anatomy. As a pioneer of this new specialty called gnathology, he was invited to train and mentor dentists all over the word.

But he refused to travel unless Maxine's air fare and hotel were included in the arrangements, and it had to be first class all the way, from Peru, to Japan, Europe, Israel and back. As he used to say, "Not bad for a little Jewish dentist from Winnipeg!"

Harry had many illustrious patients, but gave everyone who sat in his chair the same exceptional care. Like Maxine, Harry was a tireless solider for the Liberal Party of Canada and a top notch fundraiser for community organizations including The United Way, The United Jewish Appeal and the Louis Brier Home for the Aged, just to name a few.

He stared down melanoma and kept skiing and playing tennis longer than any normal person. Through it all, he showed his children and grandchildren how to get the most out of life and gave them every opportunity to do just that.

In 2006, Maxine was diagnosed with cancer, and in 2008, Harry's heart was broken when he said goodbye to her. Though he barely managed with his own health, he made the most of these last years. His housekeeper, Flore Reynante, had a roast chicken for him on Friday nights and faithfully kept his home as Maxine did. He read constantly - mostly history and biography - played bridge, managed his investments and enjoyed his friends, especially Katherine Sanford. With Katherine, he made it once more to his beloved Israel, and even on a cruise just four months ago to South-East Asia. Harry is predeceased by his brothers William and Louis.

He is survived by his three children, sons-in-law Brian Mickelson and Allan Risk, daughter-in-law, Barbara Gelfant, and five grandchildren Max (Jac-Lyn), Sam, Zoë, Sophia, Hanna.

Many thanks to Drs. Ric Arseneau and Lyall Levy for their years of care, Jose Lanuzo and Rex Lazo, and to Pacific Spirit and Evergreen Nursing for his palliative care.

Funeral Services Tuesday, April 9th, 12:30 pm, Temple Shalom, 7190 Oak Street, Vancouver, followed by interment at Temple Shalom White Rock Cemetery. Shiva at 1510 West 36th Avenue April 9-11, 7:00 pm. No flowers, please; donations to the Jewish National Fund of Canada for tree planting in Israel, www.jnf.ca/treecard.html.

Published in National Post on Apr. 9, 2013
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