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barry and honey sherman

Honey and Barry Sherman.Janice Pinto/The Globe and Mail

Less than a week before the billionaire businessman Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey, were found dead in their Toronto mansion, Ms. Sherman was cheerfully making plans for the couple's annual trip south.

"Looking forward to getting together in Florida. I am coming south Monday, December 18 [to]Friday, January 12," she wrote in an e-mail to friends last Monday.

What happened to Barry and Honey Sherman? What we know so far about the Apotex founder's death

"Barry is coming south for Monday December 25 & going home with me Jan. 12. Please let me know your dates south asap so i can place in my calendar … Looking forward to hearing back asap. Xoxo Honey."

Instead of looking forward to socializing with Ms. Sherman on what was to be the first day of her vacation, friends of the couple are reeling – stunned that the pair were found hanging from a railing partly surrounding their basement lap pool on Friday.

Late Sunday, Toronto police said the couple both died from "ligature neck compression."

The homicide squad is now in charge of the investigation, although police were still classifying the deaths as "suspicious," not a homicide, in their Sunday night statement.

Over the weekend, multiple media reports and a Toronto police source said the early theory of investigators was that Mr. Sherman may have killed his wife and then took his own life.

However, the couple's grown children dismissed outright the suggestion that a murder-suicide was behind the deaths.

"Our parents shared an enthusiasm for life and commitment to their family and community totally inconsistent with the rumours regrettably circulated in the media as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths," the family said in a statement released Saturday evening.

"We are shocked and think it's irresponsible that police sources have reportedly advised the media of a theory which neither their family, their friends nor their colleagues believe to be true."

The couple had four children and had recently welcomed a new grandchild.

Toronto police did not officially confirm until late Sunday that the bodies discovered at 50 Old Colony Rd. in the city's north end on Friday were those of Mr. Sherman, 75, the founder of generic pharmaceuticals giant Apotex Inc., and his 70-year-old wife, Honey, a gregarious philanthropist whose causes ranged from higher education to health care to the Jewish community.

A Toronto police source told The Globe and Mail that a real estate agent who had been helping to sell the Shermans' North York home – it was recently listed for $6.9-million – discovered the bodies on Friday morning.

There was no sign of forced entry to the home and no note left behind to explain what had happened, the police source said.

As tributes and condolences poured in over the weekend – including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory – friends of the Shermans in Toronto's tight-knit Jewish community struggled to find an explanation for their deaths.

"It was like being hit with a bolt of lightning on Friday," said Paul Godfrey, the chief executive officer of Postmedia Network Inc., who has known the Shermans socially for more than 25 years. "Everybody is asking, 'How could this happen?'"

Honey and Barry Sherman were proof that opposites attract, according to people who knew the couple.

Ms. Sherman was warm, genuine and loved to socialize. Mr. Sherman was a renowned workaholic, not comfortable with small talk and occasionally let on that he would rather go to the dentist than attend another fundraiser. But he always showed up because it was important to his wife.

Mr. Sherman talked business with a handful of friends at a reception in Toronto a few weeks ago for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, a party hosted by Senator Linda Frum.

At that party, Mr. Sherman made it clear that he still loved what he was doing and had no plans to leave Apotex, according to a Bay Street executive who knew the couple well.

Mr. Sherman gave no hint there were any financial problems at Apotex, the executive said.

The couple were planning a dinner party with a number of Toronto friends at their winter home in Palm Beach later this month; informal invitations went out last week, asking when a number of couples were free.

Mr. Sherman's net worth was recently estimated to be $4.77-billion by Canadian Business, an online magazine, making him the 15th-richest person in Canada.

The Shermans have handed out millions of dollars to hospitals, universities and the United Jewish Appeal. Ms. Sherman was on the board of governors at York University, the Baycrest Foundation and Mount Sinai Hospital. She was also the past chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto and former chair of the Holocaust Education Centre.

Rhonda Lenton, the president of York University, last saw the Shermans on Oct. 28 after a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall.

The couple were in a buoyant mood that night, Dr. Lenton recalled, especially the more outgoing Ms. Sherman.

"[Ms. Sherman was] warm and effusive and bubbly," she said. "Because she is involved in so many different boards and quite involved in the Jewish community, she's known by everybody. She loves chatting."

Friends and colleagues have long said that Mr. Sherman was consumed with work and that he devoted almost all of his time and energy to Apotex, frequently sleeping for only a few hours a night. He had almost no outside interests and no taste for luxury, once driving an old car into such disrepair that Ms. Sherman went out and bought him a new Mercedes.

"Barry liked to do one thing: work. He worked seven days a week and he loved it," said Murray Rubin, 87, a retired pharmaceutical-industry colleague.

Mr. Rubin described the couple as kind and generous, and says he was shocked by the news of their deaths, and expressed disbelief that it could have been a murder-suicide.

"That is impossible," he said on Saturday.

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha, Joe Friesen, Molly Hayes, Tavia Grant, Jeff Gray and Susan Krashinsky Robertson

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