Husband, financial whiz, runner, grandfather. Born on Nov. 25, 1924, in Toronto; died on Dec. 26, 2013, in Toronto, of Parkinson’s disease, aged 89.
Reuben Volodarsky was born in Toronto in 1924, just after his family arrived from Uman, Russia. His parents and older brother knew neither the language nor the customs of Canada, and anti-Semitism was a way of life. It was difficult for newcomers to get established and the onset of the Great Depression made it even more difficult. His family struggled, moving often, staying within their Spadina Avenue neighbourhood, but as Dad would say, “As hard as things were, we never went on relief.”
Dad left school after finishing Grade 10 to help his family and worked at odd jobs until he was 18. It was the height of the Second World War and he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was stationed in Ottawa.
After the war, he became R. George Vale, keeping but not using Reuben; people routinely anglicized their names to escape prejudice. He then began his sales career, as a manufacturer’s representative for several different lines of clothing. Dad was a natural and it seemed he could sell anything to anyone. It was at work that he asked out the bookkeeper, Frieda Glaser, a recent immigrant from Austria. The date turned out well and they would be happily married for 62 years.
By the time I came along, the youngest of three children, Dad was successful enough that his job was fun for him. He didn’t need to worry about making his next sale to put food on the table and could work on his own schedule allowing himself time for his passions – especially the stock market.
He possessed a brilliant and encyclopedic mind, which was put to good use in his financial dealings. He read everything he could find and understood market theory fully. Dad could tell you what he paid for every stock, its current price and when its dividends were due. We would joke that he couldn’t remember our birthdays, but always knew the close for Seagram. He also helped friends and relatives enrich their lives with his stock tips.
Fitness was another passion. During his working life, everything stopped at noon and he went to the Y for two hours. We would overhear him on the phone saying, “No, I can't make a one o’clock appointment, I’m already booked.” He was a fixture at the gym, going six days a week and making many friends. He was tenacious and won many first-place trophies for distance running. Eventually, Parkinson’s got the better of him and he had to stop going to the gym. But that wasn’t the end of exercising: He took up a home program, starting with five repetitions of each exercise and building up to 27.
But Dad’s greatest passion was his eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Eight grandchildren arrived in less than seven years. He delighted in their visits and took them places, the highlight being their fishing trips. Unlike his own offspring, these kids could do no wrong. They, in turn, were deeply devoted and did whatever they could to help him when he was ill.
When he celebrated his 89th birthday last November, four generations were gathered to watch him blow out the candles.
Lydia Vale is George’s daughter.
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