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Heinz Heinrich: Consultant. Frequent flyer. Homebody. Dad. Born Jan. 6, 1922, in Hohenelbe (Vrchlabi), Czechoslovakia; died Sept. 13, 2022, in Hudson, Que., from congestive heart failure; aged 100.

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Heinz Heinrich.Courtesy of family

Heinz Heinrich learned in life that preparation pays dividends. But not always: As a boy in Czechoslovakia, he couldn’t predict that he’d lose his hearing, that his parents would divorce, that impending war would force him and his Jewish mother and stepfather to flee to the U.K. and then to Canada.

He took setbacks philosophically, though. Ups and downs in life are inevitable, he came to believe. “Train yourself to be an optimist,” he told his middle son. “Many times, apparent reversals have unexpected, beneficial consequences.”

He liked crosswords and puns; Victor Borge made him laugh. A details man, he could spend hours studying the intricate designs and decorative lettering in an old Persian carpet.

Temperate but no teetotaler, Heinz made his own akvavit using vodka and caraway seeds. Like many planners he was a bit of a worrier; he kept his medicine cabinet stocked with charcoal tablets and Tums. To aid his dodgy digestion he made his own yogurt.

Heinz came to Canada in 1939 and went into chemical engineering at McGill University. Though a Czechoslovak citizen, having an “alien” German name and a father and half-sister still living in Occupied Europe meant he had to report monthly to the RCMP.

Upon graduation, Heinz was hired by Trans-Canada Air Lines at Dorval airport. There he met Gwendolyn Ford, a young woman from Bristol, England, who, like him, had crossed the Atlantic, mother in tow, on a ship of war evacuees.

A friend introduced Heinz to Gwen in the cafeteria of the airport’s Hanger No. 2. Instantly smitten, the couple (he 24, she 20) married a year later, and in 1946, they moved to Winnipeg, where Heinz had been transferred by TCA. The lonely Prairie winters wore them down, and in 1949 he and Gwen moved back to Montreal.

For the next five decades, Heinz advised on business and finance, first for TCA, then for other airlines, aircraft manufacturers, executive air services, the military, banks and governments. In 1960, with Gwen as his assistant, he started up a one-man company, Heinrich Aviation Consultants Ltd.

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In 1989, Heinz Heinrich returned to Czechoslovakia and revisted the town where he lived as a boy.Peter Martin/Courtesy of family

Soon, parenthood beckoned, and as a father Heinz was scrupulously fair, giving each of his three boys equal love and attention. He disliked favouritism, preached tolerance and good manners and frugality, and lived by a Latin motto learned in grade school: Mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body. He was a town councillor in Hudson, Que., and held the local mayor accountable for every penny spent, then ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor himself.

He was always curious about people, but meeting him could be unnerving. Upon learning your name, Heinz would gently probe into your geographic and family background, and try to link this to the latest news coming from that part of the world. Never one for random small talk – his hearing aid could only pick up so much – he made conversation by asking questions.

Heinz lived and worked in Hudson for 58 years. As he neared his 70s and retirement, he returned to his homeland when Communism fell in late 1989 and retraced the places he lived in as a youth. He found a lot of it wanting. He also realized that leaving when he did, as a 17-year-old, was not really a “reversal,” because on balance the consequences had been beneficial.

A Canadian citizen for close to 80 years, he’d been accepted into a country that was “glorious and free,” and he never forgot it.

“Be conscious,” he’d advise one of his four grandsons as he entered his 90s, “that, because of this freedom you have, you have a responsibility to do the best you can, exercise your best talents and concentrate on doing something in life that you feel, no matter how small, could make life in this country and in the world a little bit better.”

Little did Heinz know he’d live to be 100. But then, who can ever plan on that?

Jeff Heinrich is Heinz’s youngest son.

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