Father, husband, brother, lawyer, teacher, pied piper of dogs. Born May 13, 1953, in Buckingham, Que.; died April 26, 2013, in Chelsea, Que., of a heart attack, aged 59.
Gene Assad’s story is an unlikely one. His father, Eli Assad, was a Lebanese merchant, and his mother, Lucille Tremblay, a French-Canadian from Lac Saint-Jean. Born continents and cultures apart, they met and married in Buckingham, Que. This family history may explain why Gene arrived three days late. It’s intimidating to embrace a life destined to be the opposite of ordinary.
The middle child of five, Gene grew up in Buckingham. Early on, he demonstrated an irrepressible sense of humour. In his first report card, a teacher noted he was “farfelu” – full of beans. He put this energy to good use while at secondary school at Collège Saint-Alexandre, joining every social and arts club and playing every sport.
Gene and his older brother Paul shared an apartment at the University of Ottawa while Paul studied medicine and Gene studied law. Both were easily distracted. Since they wore clothes from their father’s clothing store, they consulted each morning before class to avoid dressing the same.
They travelled Europe together, getting lost in Amsterdam and Germany’s Black Forest and in the driving rain of the mountains while attempting – not always succeeding – to pitch a tent. Within days, they were the talk of the tourists that surrounded them.
Gene graduated from law school in 1978 and was called to the Quebec bar the next year. His start as a prosecutor set the stage for a distinguished career. As a Justice Canada lawyer specializing in national security law, he served many federal departments and organizations, including the Solicitor General, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, Industry Canada and the RCMP. Gene relished serving his local and provincial bar associations, and was elected president of the Hull Law Society in 2000.
It was around this time that his true passion – teaching – revealed itself. He taught at the Canadian Police College and at the University of Ottawa’s civil law faculty. The pleasure for Gene was in getting to know dynamic, energetic students who represented the future of law. He loved making the material accessible, and would weave tall tales and surreal anecdotes from his time as a prosecutor into his lectures to add a human touch to dry course material. He excelled, becoming a finalist for TVO’s 2009 best lecturer award. But the greatest tribute to his teaching came this year, when he was eulogized by one of his students.
Nobody made him prouder than his daughter, Marie-Hélène, who inherited his lust for laughs. With his wife, Carole, he explored an enduring love of food, nature and boat rides on Lac Donaldson – the cottage refuge near Buckingham where family members gathered, whatever the occasion.
“Pour en avoir assez, il faut en avoir de trop,” Gene often said at family meals. The same rule, enough equals abundance, extended to his storytelling, reading and thrill-seeking ski trips to Chamonix, Vail, Utah and Whistler. And so it was for his pets, whose days started with bacon and eggs as often as Gene’s did.
Most of all, it applied to his heart.
Linda Assad Butcher is Gene’s sister.