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barry and honey sherman

Jonathon Sherman speaks during a memorial service for his parents Barry and Honey Sherman as family members look on in Mississauga, Ont. on Dec. 21, 2017.Nathan Denette/The Globe and Mail

The adult son of Barry and Honey Sherman told the more than 6,000 mourners who packed a memorial service for the billionaire couple that the rampant public speculation around their mysterious deaths last week had taken a large toll on the family.

A tearful Jonathon Sherman, flanked by his three sisters, delivered a eulogy for his parents at a convention centre in Mississauga on Friday in front of thousands of employees of the generic-drug giant his father founded, Apotex Inc., as well political leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

"As my sisters and I congregated for two days, waiting to hear any facts other than through Twitter and the unreliable news media, I kept expecting my parents to walk through the front door and say, everything will be fine, we're taking control of the situation," Mr. Sherman said.

He said the family has "had to navigate through a terrifying maze of non-information and unfounded speculation, all while trying to support each other emotionally."

Read more: Relatives seek their own investigation into deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman

The service began almost exactly a week after Barry Sherman, 75, and Honey Sherman, 70 – well-known for giving millions to charity – were found hanging from a railing that surrounds the lap pool in the basement of their Toronto mansion. Police have released little official information beyond citing "ligature neck compression" as their cause of death. Homicide detectives were still investigating the case as "suspicious" but had not declared it a homicide.

The grieving family, who this week criticized police for leaking to various media outlets that the case appeared at first to be a murder-suicide, also wants to launch its own parallel probe.

In the days since the deaths, media coverage has also highlighted a long-running lawsuit launched by Mr. Sherman's cousins, who are seeking a share of his Apotex fortune, and a legal battle over a probe of a fundraising event he held for Mr. Trudeau.

Jonathon Sherman came the closest of any of those who addressed the crowd of discussing what the family believes happened to the couple: "And for those of you … who are experiencing similar feelings of loss and loneliness and emptiness, remember this: Our parents never left anyone behind. They were taken from us."

He said Jewish families such as his emerged "like a phoenix from the ashes of the European Holocaust" and rebuilt: "When someone tries to snuff you out, or eliminate important parts of your family, we rally together and emerge stronger than ever."

The service at the International Centre near Toronto Pearson International Airport was held in a massive hangar-like room that had been draped with black curtains. Employees from Apotex's nearby headquarters were instructed to wear their corporate colour, blue, to honour Barry Sherman at the event.

The workers, who made up most of the crowd, obliged: Blue scarves, blue dresses, blue shirts and blue ties filled the room. Others wore blue T-shirts with "Apotex" written on the front and "We will continue your legacy" on the back. Several declined to speak to reporters as they filed in before the event.

They sat silently through more than two hours of Jewish prayers and songs and emotional speeches from family and friends, the Premier and Mr. Tory – but not Mr. Trudeau – projected on two massive TV screens.

Like many others who spoke, Jonathon Sherman contrasted his mother's joie de vivre – she was the face of the couple's philanthropy, sitting on boards for Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and York University – with his father's more reserved, intellectual and workaholic personality that was responsible for building Apotex into a global generic-drug giant. Family members joked that if Barry Sherman was listening, he would likely indulge in his lifelong habit of correcting their grammar.

Jonathon Sherman also told the crowd his dad had just told him mere weeks ago that he was going to be awarded the Order of Canada, adding that he did not know what would happen with that award now. He said the family was establishing a new foundation in his parents' name to carry on their philanthropy.

Mr. Tory and Ms. Wynne steered clear of mentioning the questions that still swirl around the deaths, praising the couple's generosity to various causes and Barry Sherman's achievements in the drug business.

"Many of the people who were helped by this extraordinary couple, and their extraordinary generosity, wouldn't even know who they were," Mr. Tory said.

Seated between Mr. and Ms. Sherman at an event a few weeks ago, Mr. Tory said, he asked Mr. Sherman about the idea of retirement, but he brushed off such a prospect.

Ms. Wynne praised the Shermans' commitment to Tzedakah – charitable acts.

"We're mourning the loss of two people who were devoted to making the world a better place," she said.

Senator Linda Frum told the service she met Ms. Sherman on a United Jewish Appeal mission to Israel, and that Ms. Sherman became a dedicated friend who – the child of Holocaust survivors – used her privileged position to give back to her community. She also cryptically referred to the still uncertain circumstances surrounding her death.

"Honey was well aware that evil and brutality are powerful forces in this world," Ms. Frum said.

"She may not have known that they would consume her own life."

Former Apotex chief executive officer Jacob Kay recalled Mr. Sherman would always stay at the office long after he left.

"He was kind of a teddy bear in real life. But with a mind like a steel trap and the stubbornness of a bull," Mr. Kay said.

Joel Ulster, one of Mr. Sherman's oldest friends and a former business partner, said while he was relentless at the head of Apotex – the generic-drug business involves fierce patent litigation – he also had a softer side.

"Although he was very aggressive in business, which accounts for much of his success, inside he was truly a gentle soul," Mr. Ulster said.

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