Stockbroker, wife, mother, refugee. Born Sept. 16, 1922, in Wiesbaden, Germany, died July 22, 2013, in Winnipeg of lymphoma, aged 90.
Ellen celebrated her 90th birthday in Toronto last September as Canada’s oldest active stockbroker. Surrounded by family and close friends from Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg, she was still clearly a force of nature.
Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1922, Ellen grew up in a wealthy and comfortable Jewish family. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, she and her sister Ruth were sent to private school in England.
Six months later, her family moved to the Netherlands – one of the few places that would admit German Jews at that time. Having lost everything, her parents were forced to run a small boarding house in Amsterdam. Ellen and Ruth left England and joined their parents.
At 17, Ellen came to work for my parents as a babysitter, and moved into our apartment after the Nazis invaded in May, 1940. She became a second mother to me and my brother Fred by day, and an active member of the Dutch underground at night.
She lost both of her parents during the war, but insisted on carrying messages and smuggling weapons for the underground. Her blond hair, steely self-confidence, flawless German accent and fake identity card (orchestrated by my father) helped her manoeuvre through the dangerous streets of wartime Amsterdam.
When the war ended, the Herrndorf family emigrated to North America and Ellen came with us – to New York in 1947, then Winnipeg in 1948. My father had an older brother in Winnipeg, so we were granted entry visas, but Ellen’s application was denied.
My uncle was outraged, and told MP Stanley Knowles of Ellen’s predicament. He contacted the Department of Immigration, took down the name of the official, and asked why the Canadian government had rejected this orphaned Jewish refugee.
The official was adamant, “We don’t want more of those people, you know.” Knowles became increasingly agitated, and told the official he would quote him by name in Question Period the next day. Within a few hours, Ellen’s entry visa was approved.
During the early days in Winnipeg, Ellen worked with my father in starting a small investment firm called Herrndorf Securities. Over time the firm became a success and Ellen began a legendary 65-year career in the investment business in Winnipeg.
She was renowned as a tough, shrewd and demanding figure in the investment world, but always found time to develop the really bright young investment people she met at Merrill Lynch and at CIBC Wood Gundy – people such as Ian Delaney, my sister Kiki Delaney and Gerry McCaughey (now President and CEO of the CIBC Bank).
But the most important meeting of Ellen’s professional life took place in 1955 – when she met Reg Ripstein, a highly eligible bachelor, at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Within a year they were married. Two wonderful sons, Ira and Arthur, followed.
Ellen lived with passion and style, totally on her own terms. She was an original, unusually candid in her opinions, her likes and dislikes. She would let you know what she thought and if you didn’t like it that was your problem.
You’ve had an extraordinary odyssey, Ellen. Rest in peace.
Peter Herrndorf was a close friend of Ellen.