The Law Society of Upper Canada announced that Peter Hrastovec ’82 of Windsor will be one of seven lawyers to receive the 2009 Law Society Medal for their service to society and the profession. The Law Society Medal, the Lincoln Alexander Award and the Laura Legge Award will be presented by Treasurer W. A. Derry Millar at a special ceremony at Osgoode Hall on September 23, 2009.
Peter Hrastovec '82 was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1984. He was the managing partner of Raphael Partners LLP until 2008 and now works as a sole practitioner, practising in employment and labour law and commercial litigation. Peter has made significant contribution to the community, the profession, and Windsor Law as an energetic and active volunteer. He is past president of the Windsor Symphony Society, past president of the Rotary Club of Windsor (1918); past honorary co-chair of the local United Way Campaign; and past chair of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. He has been a leader in the Essex Law Association and the Windsor Law Alumni. He co-chaired the $2000-4-2000$ Campaign and was instrumental in establishing the annual Windsor Law dinners. He was one of the co-chairs of the 25th Anniversary Reunion of the Class of 1982.
A copy of Peter's acceptance speech is reproduced below.
Established in 1985, the Law Society Medal is presented to outstanding Ontario lawyers whose service reflects the highest ideals of the profession. The Lincoln Alexander Award is presented to a lawyer who has demonstrated a commitment to the public and its well-being through community service. The award was created in 2002 in honour of former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Member of Parliament, the Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander, P.C., C.C., O. Ont., Q.C.
LAW SOCIETY ADDRESS
I am delighted to bring greetings from the Deep South –Windsor, Ontario, where our local bar association is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Windsor and Essex County has been for me a wonderful region in which to practice law and, at the outset, I want to thank my colleagues back home for making my professional life enjoyable ….on most days.
While I was at my bar exams in London, Ontario in 1983, one of our instructors (I think he’s a judge now) when hearing that I hailed from Windsor, remarked, “Windsor, eh? That’s Dodge City—anything goes!”
Well. It’s not quite like that. And it’s not the lunch bucket town that some media want to make it out to be. Yes, there are hard working people there—blue collar, white collar, in some cases no collar…. people that have families, who care for their community, and who support each other.
Does it sound familiar? Well, it is. It is a community like no other and yet, it is very much like the places all of you call home. It is also home to Life Bencher Patrick Furlong and Past Treasurer Harvey Strosberg, two men for whom I have a deep and abiding respect.
Like most of our colleagues, I pay deference to the rule of law, its institutions and the privilege accorded to those of us who are allowed to wear tabs and gowns in the courts. But for me, the best part of the practice of law has been the many relationships I have enjoyed over the years. Law gives that to all of us who practice—the opportunity to open doors, to go through them and bring others along for a journey that is unique, exciting, purposeful and ever challenging.
For me, it first began with the Law Faculty at the University of Windsor and its selection committee—some anonymous individuals who, working in concert with each other, took mild pity on me and admitted me to the school in 1979. Now some people in a rather small-minded fashion at one time referred to The University of Windsor as “Last Chance U”. Well we all knew better than that. Under the leadership of the late Dr. Ron Ianni, Dean and later one of its most beloved Presidents, this law school and its many wonderful faculty members have worked tirelessly and incessantly to promote fundamental principles such as access to justice, comparative studies with law faculties on our shared border with the United States and a community legal aid programme that is second to none. The University of Windsor became a beacon of light that guided many of my colleagues to interesting and important career paths as independent and corporate counsel, as judges, as arbitrators and as political leaders. I congratulate the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law on this its 40th anniversary year. I am proud to salute you as an alumnus.
In my articles, I worked for Charles J. Clark whose name is etched in stone in our community but whose memory is indelibly inscribed in the spirit of all of those he has inspired. He taught his students and our local bar to take responsibility for the community. To practice law was a privilege, said Mr. Clark. Therefore it was important to give back to the community. Community volunteerism was not designed to get your name up on a building or on some civic square or some memorial award though Mr. Clark was afforded all of those kudos and many more both in life and in death. Mr. Clark was not concerned about all of that. It was about strengthening the community and building relationships—the ties that bind us all together. That’s what life was all about. Your practice will take care of itself, he said.
And my professor emeritus and good friend John Whiteside, now recovering in hospital, invited me to participate in community work within days of my being called to the bar. “I just got started”, I said, barely having opened my first law office in June 1984. “It’s never too late”, said Professor Whiteside. Such was the importance of paying it forward and the lessons I was to learn long before I really knew what that term meant. So, I have to thank Mr. Clark and Professor Whiteside for those valuable lessons that I still carry with me today.
And I have to remember my old friend and partner, the late Leon Paroian who, upon receiving the Charles Clark Award from the Essex Law Association for his invaluable contributions to our community, stated in his own inimitable way, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy lawyer!”
One of my business associates at one time asked me, “So Peter, with all of this community work that you do, how many clients can you say that it has brought to the firm?” I looked at him sternly and replied, “I didn’t think it was polite to keep count!”
Contrary to popular belief, I have managed to practice law, go to court and administrative tribunals and work on some interesting cases for some equally interesting clients. It’s a balancing act and I have been known to stumble and drop a few things on the floor. But I pick up where I left off and, like most, I try to do my best.
This is truly a remarkable honour—remarkable in that this son of Croatian immigrants could not have scripted this. And to be in the company of such worthy award recipients on this day in this hallowed hall is something akin to a dream. I congratulate all of you as I am in awe of your profound achievements.
Not only am I grateful to the Law Society of Upper Canada, the benchers, the Law Society Medal committee and the dedicated staff who are responsible for this wonderful program this evening, I am greatly indebted to the Law Society for allowing me the privilege of practicing law.
Though my original career path was slightly altered when I got accepted into Law School, (I wanted to be a journalist), I can say with all honesty that I have not had too many boring days. I have been able to meet new people, tremendous lawyers, (most of whom I could tip my hat to), many brilliant and conscientious judges and some pretty decent people I call clients who were kind enough to allow me to assist them, in some particulars cases, during their darkest hours. I thank them all for the gift of our relationship and their desire and intent to allow me to act the part of counsel.
Briefly, I want to add thanks to some special people -–some of who are here today. First, allow me to thank my assistant of 21 years, Jenny Lou Venney who, most of my clients and colleagues would agree, is far more pleasant to speak with than me. Jenny has been an anchor in the office and has worked tirelessly to make me look professional. She is also a friend and, I can say without any reservation, the reason why I have had some measure of success in this profession. Jenny, thank you from the very bottom of my heart and thank you for traveling with your young family to be here today.
My former partners and associates—I thank them for their wisdom and their example, for demonstrating virtue and integrity and for distinguishing what is right from what is wrong. Though we are no longer together, we are friends and we are colleagues. Special thanks go to Bert and Stan Raphael here in Toronto and in Windsor, Ray Colautti for your support and encouragement over many years.
I am grateful as well to a former partner, Nancy Nicholson, who had to leave practice several years ago due to a life altering disability but whose courage is demonstrable through the community volunteerism that is so inspirational to many in everything that she continues to do. It was Nancy, I have learned, who wrote and persuaded others to write glowing letters on my behalf. I also note that these letters are unsworn statements so, she got away with it. Nancy could not make the trip with us but I will share the memories of this event with her upon my return with the added hope of repaying to her the many kindnesses she has shown to my family and me over the years.
Finally, I am indebted and grateful for my family.
To my late parents Antica and Stjepan who instilled in me the love of art, music, philosophy, and literature but who allowed me to play Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull…loud… and who allowed me to grow my hair long for a brief stint in the early ‘70’s. We had very little but at the same time I had so much, enriched forever by their good example, deep faith, and human compassion. And to my big sister, Adrienne, now gone as well, but whose legacy of love, guidance and courage remains with me always.
To my three dear children, Andrea, endeavoring to begin her career as an educator here in the GTA, Stephen, in the midst of his studies as an engineer, and Aaron—actor, songwriter, hockey and soccer aficionado—a busy life for a 12-year old—I love the three of you so fiercely and I am delighted that at our family dinners we have spent countless hours talking about you, that we have allowed you to live your lives and keep our respective offices far and furthest away from the dinner table—our community table where we share ideas, dreams, possibilities and laughter…so much laughter.
And finally, to my best friend, the love of my life Denise. The law may be a jealous mistress, but I am a one-woman man. Thank you for your love and your inspiration as a professional and a community leader in your own right. Thank you for being in my corner, helping me to keep my feet on the ground and reminding me in weaker moments that that the real prize sit around our dinner table most days and call us “Mom and Dad”. People say we make a pretty good team—Denise and I-- and, yes, I will concede that she is the coach and the captain. Most importantly, Denise, I thank you for being my friend.
In closing, please allow me to impart a lesson learned. My late father loved the classical writers. During my rebellious teen-age years, he tried, as do all fathers, to make a point with me. He did it in his own fashion by quoting Seneca. "Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart." Today, I finally understand what he meant by that.
In humble gratitude, I thank you a thousand times over.
23 September 2009