In memoriam: Sydney L. Robins, O. Ont, QC, 1923 – 2014

The Honourable Sydney Lewis Robins, O.Ont., QC, LSM, LLD, LLM, LLB, BA, passed away on Friday, January 10, at the age of 90. The loss fills me with a great sadness — he was a well-respected bencher and Treasurer, as well as an incredible human being.

After being called to the Bar in 1947, he was elected bencher in 1961. At the time, he was the youngest bencher ever.

A short 10 years later, his fellow benchers elected him Treasurer — the first Jewish person to hold the position — in which capacity he served from 1971 until 1974. He then became a Supreme Court of Ontario Justice.

In 1981, he was both named to the Ontario Court of Appeal and awarded an honorary LLD by the Law Society. He received the Law Society Medal (LSM) in the year 2000 for service in accordance with the highest ideals of the legal profession.

When he retired from the Bench in 1998, he joined Goodmans LLP as counsel, and had served there for the last decade and a half. In 2013, he was awarded the Order of Ontario.

During his career, Robins served on several Ontario provincial commissions, and arbitrated a Toronto Transit Commission labour dispute in the late ‘70s.

On the occasion of one of his many honours, Robins’ colleague, Howard S. Black, had this to say about him:

“One of the more distinguishing attributes of Mr. Justice Robins has not simply been his pursuit of justice for the sake of justice, but his humanistic personality and ability to temper the law with a sense of compassion.”

Black went on to quote a speech to Convocation in which former Treasurer John J. Robinette praised Robins for his sense of humour, his sympathy toward all people, and his “tolerance of his fellow beings.”

I had the pleasure of sitting down last year for an extended conversation with Syd, as part of a “Three Treasurers” roundtable we held with another former Treasurer, James Spence.

I’ll treasure the memory of that talk, and count myself lucky to have known him.

We have many traditions here at the Law Society. One such tradition is that a new Treasurer selects a portrait of a previous Treasurer whom she or he most admires or is inspired by to hang in the Treasurer’s office during the new Treasurer’s term.

I chose Cleeve Horne’s rendering of Sydney Robins. The portrait captures Syd perfectly. I look up at it now and see before me the portrait of a man who is a confident, intelligent, erudite and compassionate leader of the profession. It was painted in the 1970s, before he went on to even greater distinction as a trial judge and a Justice of the Court of Appeal. I’ve added it to this post, below.

For me, Syd Robins is the model of what a Treasurer should be and he has been an inspiration for me since I took office in June 2012. His many friends and colleagues at the Law Society will miss him greatly.


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