Father, husband, lawyer, friend. Born on Feb. 25, 1941, in Edmonton; died on Oct. 27, 2014, in Winnipeg, of cancer, aged 73.
It's difficult to remember the first time I met Ken Filkow, not because it wasn't a memorable moment, but because as soon as he became a part of your life, it felt as if he had always been there.
Ken was more than a warm and caring person, he was the wise man the other partners at his law firm went to for personal and professional advice. He was the friend people called on when they wanted to let off steam. He was the father who didn't go a day without speaking to his children. He was easy to open up to – and he loved to chat over lunch at Winnipeg institutions such as the Falafel Place or Oscar's Deli – because he had an acute understanding of what it means to live.
Born in Edmonton, Ken grew up in Winnipeg, where his family had moved when he was a baby. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Manitoba, he became a rising star in the legal world – he was a leading litigation and corporate lawyer for close to 50 years – and he had an intense passion for his profession rarely seen today. Appointed a Queen's Counsel after only 11 years at the bar, he honed his craft at Arpin & Company and was a long-time partner with McJannet Rich and then D'Arcy & Deacon.
From 1988 to 2001, Ken served as chairman of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, overseeing decisions that helped to make his province a better place. In 2000, the commission ruled that mothers have a right to breastfeed in stores, a judgment hailed as major step forward for women's rights. In 1995, he served as president of the Canadian national association of human rights agencies.
Ken was involved in many organizations, including PEN Canada, which supports freedom of expression. In May, the group will recognize his long-standing commitment to human rights with the inaugural Ken Filkow Award, given to those who have made significant contributions to free expression in Canada. As well, the University of Manitoba's law school is marking his contributions to the legal profession with the annual Ken Filkow Excellency in Negotiation scholarship.
As many victories as Ken had, he also suffered devastating losses. In 1993, his 21-year-old son Shaun passed away, and in 2008 he lost his wife, Sharon, to cancer. For most people, it would be very difficult to lose a child and then a spouse, but Ken's love of life never wavered.
A couple of weeks before he passed away, also from cancer, he told me that as challenging as those losses were, it was the difficult moments – plus the good ones, such as seeing his son Kevin and daughter Lainie have kids of their own – that made life interesting. It was a profound statement and a message that others would be wise to take to heart. As tough as things got ("Life is not for sissies," he would often say), every day was another experience, and every conversation an opportunity to learn something new.
When Ken died, Winnipeg's legal community lost a respected colleague. Many lost a close confidant. His family lost a beloved father and grandfather. And everyone lost a lifelong friend.
Bryan Borzykowski is Ken's son-in-law.