Father, husband, grandfather, film distributor. Born on March 5, 1931, in Toronto; died on Jan. 9, 2014, in Toronto, of heart disease, aged 82.
Despite decades of serious ill health, Len Herberman made it to 82. He saw his three sons find loving partners, whom he loved as well, and participated in the lives of grandchildren Alexis, Shane and Ari into young adulthood. He surprised everyone by living as long as he did, including all of his doctors and possibly the emergency room staff at many Toronto hospitals.
The son of Romanian immigrants, little Laybla from Brunswick Avenue in Toronto came a long way in the world. He and his three brothers grew up with very little in an era almost unimaginable today. Few parents let their children play in the streets now, let alone send them to Kensington Market to buy a live chicken for dinner.
Perhaps because he had so little, Len, as he came to be known in school, had a strong desire to do well and was fortunate to find a profession he loved – the film business. He had loved movies from the time he was a boy. He lived all over North America as he progressed in the business.
When Len moved to Saint John in the early 1960s, as the general manager for a film distribution company, a colleague took him to a diner for lunch. He walked in, saw a woman working behind the counter and said, “I’m going to marry that woman.” But Judy Koven would have nothing to do with him. He persisted, eating lunch there every day and chatting with her. She gradually grew to like, and then love, him. Judy was a widow with two young boys, Mark and Jon. In the early 1960s, taking on a wife and an instant family was almost unheard of, yet Len and Judy married and he adopted the boys.
Len was an extraordinary father to Mark and Jon, and soon Sid. His kindness, generosity, patience, support and sense of humour propelled the family. When success brought him the car of his dreams, a Lincoln Town Car, his love for his now-teenage sons tested his patience when each of them took turns driving and denting both sides of it, and, eventually, when Jon crashed it. Jon remembers only that Dad’s concern for his welfare trumped any anger about the material loss.
Business took Len all over the world, acquiring the rights for movies to distribute in Canada. While he eventually owned the largest independent film distribution company in Canada, Ambassador Films, the stress of it nearly killed him. At 52, he had a quintuple bypass. As a result, he changed everything about the way he lived. He retired, quit smoking, became a vegetarian, and walked many kilometres every day.
When Judy died suddenly after a bypass operation in 1992, Len was overwhelmed by grief, as was her sister, Esther. In their shared heartache, and over time, Len and Essie became a couple. They had many rich years together until Len’s health problems took over. Without Essie’s devotion and her abilities as a nurse, Len would not have survived as long as he did. His devotion to her was reflected in his special love for her grandchildren, Jana and Mira.
A few months before his death, and by now frail, Len said, “You don’t want to die when you’re young, but you don’t want to die when you’re old, either.”
We cannot truly know if there is a separation between the body and the soul. Nevertheless, it comforts his family to think that perhaps Len’s soul is out there, still connected to those he loved, both living and dead.
Jon Herberman is Len’s son.