Om Parkash Sachdeva: Patriarch. Lawyer. Patriotic. Letter writer. Born July 7, 1925, in Nairobi, Kenya; died Sept. 29, 2019, in Victoria, of pneumonia; aged 94.
Om Sachdeva used to say he was lucky to be a Canadian and to have lived a good long life. Of course, his wife, Swadesh, always said he was lucky he married her.
Om worked as a lawyer and then a judge in Kenya to support his wife and three children but political instability in the country had him looking elsewhere.
At 42, he visited Montreal for Expo ‘67 and the possibilities in Canada excited him. He travelled across the country on a Greyhound bus pass. In Toronto, Om walked into one of Canada’s largest law firms without an appointment. Half an hour later he walked out with an articling job, the first step in requalifying as a lawyer in Ontario. He returned to Kenya and applied to immigrate to Canada with his family. In August, 1968, Swadesh and Om arrived with Ajay, 12, Priti, 7, and Atul, 5, in tow.
He was called to the bar in Ontario, and the family settled in Beamsville, Ont., where Om ran the local office of a law firm in St. Catharines, eventually becoming a partner. He never talked about work at home, but later the family heard from others how his advice was sound, practical and trustworthy. Baskets of fruit and bottles of wine were often left on the family’s doorstep from grateful clients.
Om was somewhat stern and strict with his children. As his father, who had moved to Kenya from India, had done with him, Om urged them to study and work hard to succeed. His children would have to face his adept and incisive cross-examinations when they tried to get away with something, which they never did. He was a stickler for details, too. He always read the fine print which could be annoying as he pointed out every potential risk and pitfall. When lecturing the family, Om had a habit of jabbing the air with his index finger to make a point. (In later years, this habit was copied by his young grandchildren, to much laughter!)
When the family first moved to Canada, Om tried to make winter fun by taking everyone out tobogganing, ice skating and in spring to the maple sugar bush. They first explored Toronto on public transit, then once he bought a car they took memorable road trips to Ottawa’s Parliament buildings and to Quebec’s historical sites.
When Om retired in 1992, he learned how to use a computer (he was a two-finger typist) and wrote articles for the local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard. His columns covered topics as diverse as Canadian separatism, respect and tolerance for all cultures and hockey. He was also a prolific letter writer, sending missives (or advice) to newspapers and politicians of all stripes. Jean Charest, then a federal MP, once replied with a handwritten note.
The couple also began to travel more, exploring Europe, Asia and the Yukon, riding the train through the Canadian Rockies, visiting family in Kenya, and taking grandchildren Travis and Jade to Walt Disney World, in Florida.
In 2015, Om and Swadesh moved to Victoria to enjoy the milder climate and live with their son Atul and his young family.
In the last year of his life, Om’s health deteriorated but his mind remained sharp and the family continued to rely on him for advice and guidance. Once in the hospital, Om looked forward to daily “checkups” from his granddaughters, Abigail, 4, and Avrielle, 3, who arrived in white lab coats with toy stethoscopes.
Of his life in Canada, Om once remarked, “I couldn’t have asked for better.” Swadesh would add that in a life filled with many adventures, the best was establishing a new life in Canada with Om.
Priti Sachdeva is Om’s daughter.
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