Dentist, social advocate and a real mensch. Born on April 13, 1932, in Hamilton, Ont.; died on May 2, 2014, in Toronto, of natural causes, aged 82.
Many people have travelled with me on my life’s journey, but few were as vibrant and unique as my long-time friend and dentist, Berrel Garshowitz. A graduate of the University of Toronto’s dental school, he practised for nearly a half-century, well into his 70s. Berrel was as passionate and serious about his work as he was about living a fun and active life.
I met him in the early 1970s when he returned to Toronto from Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., where he practised for a short time after marrying his first wife, Shelley. For the next 40 years, he was my trusted dentist. But as some of his loyal patients would tell you, his methods could be considered a bit outside the box.
Who knew that appointments could go on for two hours, or more? Was it not typical for a new crown to take months, if not years, to obtain? Fortunately, Berrel’s temporary crowns could last years. When he retired, my new dentist fit me for a crown and had it in my mouth within a week. Surely, I thought, this was some kind of scam. When she later told me that it would take a half-hour to replace a filling, I was certain she was a charlatan. It would take Berrel that long to get his coffee and catch up on the news.
Berrel enjoyed dancing and generally having fun with others. In his later years, he regularly attended an English country dancing group at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Toronto. He was also proud of his association with the Toronto Creative Workshop, a group of wonderful people dedicated to fun, leadership and community. It was there that he met his second wife, Marti.
Berrel had a genuine, whacky sense of humour that he loved to share. My favourite story is an example of that – the “Batman visit.” Berrel loved to work with kids and went to great lengths to put them at ease during treatments. One child, who we’ll call Johnny, was having a difficult appointment so Berrel felt a visit from superhero Batman would calm him. Telling Johnny he was going to introduce him to a special friend, Berrel went into a side office, donned a Batman costume he had rented for a party, climbed into the ceiling and crawled over to where the child was sitting. Then he dropped to the floor with a flourish, scaring the daylights out of the little boy. Apparently, it took some time to calm Johnny’s mom as well.
But along with this penchant for fun came a passionate, deep-seated interest in human rights and the human condition. Berrel was a long-time member of Amnesty International and supporter of the David Suzuki Foundation. As one of his nephews said, “He was an environmentalist, before they invented the term.”
Even more deeply, he supported the causes of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. At his graveside, the association’s general counsel Alan Borovoy spoke of Berrel’s commitment to social justice. He recalled how his lifelong friend had worked with the group to reveal and break down racial discrimination in rental housing in Toronto. It was a moving, deserving tribute.
In the heavens, the angels will do no better than to have Dr. Garshowitz look after their dental needs, share a few stories, and make them smile. But they should be prepared to stay a while in the chair. You never know who might be dropping in.
Anthony Gizzie is Berrel’s friend.