Beloved husband, father, grandfather, physician, renaissance man. Born Oct. 20, 1923, in Lastomir, Czechoslovakia. Died Nov. 14, 2011, in Toronto of heart failure, aged 88.
Dr. Michael Kovalik immigrated to Montreal as a child just before the Depression. It could not have been easy for his parents, sister and him to settle into this new and challenging environment. But he possessed an intellectual curiosity and love of learning that helped him cope.
The first of the newly arrived Slovak families to go to university, Michael graduated from medical school at McGill University in 1948. He served as a role model for the community by demonstrating that higher education was possible. Until the day he died, he constantly asked his children, “What have you read lately?”
Michael had a calling to become a doctor. After completing his internship and residency at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, he served the community for more than 50 years as an endocrinologist in the Montreal area. He hated suffering, both physical and emotional, and dedicated his life to doing what he could to alleviate people’s pain. He continued to practise medicine until he was 81.
He had great respect for all living things, and had a particular fondness for trees. Although he never liked artificial Christmas trees, he would not allow his family to put up a real tree because he disagreed with chopping down what took years to grow for a week of pleasure. He never wanted to kill an insect in the house. He said it was a miracle that something so small and delicate could exist.
Michael had five children – Eugene, Joseph, Marie-Anne, Olga and Jean-Paul – and 10 grandchildren who adored him. An inspiring father, he instilled confidence and fearlessness as well as a strong work ethic in his children. He was a feminist who told his kids that society needed working mothers to produce the next generation of well-adjusted children. While singing the Canadian national anthem, he would revise the words to “in all our sons and daughters command.”
He was a loving and devoted husband to Rosa, his wife of more than 54 years. During their entire marriage, he always called her “Beauty” instead of addressing her by name.
Perhaps Michael’s most striking characteristic was how happy and cheerful he was. He always had a warm smile and sparkling eyes. He was naturally optimistic, rarely spoke ill of people and had a way of making people feel better when they were down.
Each day, before returning from work, Michael would phone home and say, “I am on the way.” He is now on the way to his next journey. He would not want us to grieve but would want us to remember the happy times because that, to him, was what made life meaningful. We will miss him terribly, but take comfort in the fact that we were fortunate to have had him in our lives.
Olga Kovalik is Michael’s daughter.