As a lawyer, advocate, and a volunteer, Stephen Victor is proud to have supported the State of Israel for 50 years.
And now, a letter from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has informed him that it will be conferring upon him the degree of Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa, the university’s highest accolade.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Victor is senior partner in the law firm Victor Ages Vallance. From a start as the youngest-ever director of Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa at age 24, he has served the Jewish community in many roles and has been honoured several times – including in 1992 when he received the Gilbert Greenberg Distinguished Service Award, the highest award offered by the Jewish community of Ottawa.
Victor’s honorary PhD will be conferred at Hebrew University’s annual convocation on June 11, at the Rothberg Amphitheatre in Jerusalem on the Mount Scopus campus during the Board of Governors’ gathering.
Significantly, the bestowing of Victor’s honorary doctorate will coincide with events marking the centennial anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone “in celebration of 100 years of knowledge” at Hebrew University.
Victor credits his lifelong involvement with Israel to the influential executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Ottawa/Vaad Ha’Ir (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa) Hy Hochberg in the 1970s.
“Hy Hochberg took my wife Gail and me to Israel in 1972,” he said. “I was 31 and she was 29, and we were the youngest couple on the trip. I was already practicing law. We fell in love with Israel… I decided that besides my law practice and my family, I wanted to do something additionally in my life. Because of that trip, I decided that I’d devote my time and energy to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
“I was lucky because in the ’67 war, I was privileged to go to the home of Sol Shabinsky and saw the outpouring of financial support for the Six Day War. Only the major donors were there, but Hy took me along. And then in ’73, I was in the boardroom when Gilbert Greenberg led fundraising at that critical time. And so, I said ‘hey, it’s not a bad idea to devote a part of your life for this.’ And that’s what I’ve done ever since. It’s the most worthy cause and I wanted it to be part of my life.”
Victor’s community work continued. He was president of the Jewish Community Centre from 1978 to ’80, UJA chair in 1983 and became president of the Vaad in 1987 for a two-year term.
In 1990, he began working at the national level and eventually was elected chair of the Canada-Israel Committee, then the advocacy voice of the Jewish community in Canada on behalf of Israel. He was there for four years, and all the Jewish organizations had representative on that board.
“I did things on a national basis and went to Israel three times a year,” he said.
When Yitzhak Rabin, then the prime minister of Israel, was assassinated on November 4, 1995, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien invited Victor to accompany him to the funeral.
In the early 2000s, Victor became national president of Canadian Friends of Hebrew University.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he recalled, “and I met everybody from all over the world. I met the finest and greatest people at Hebrew University – philanthropists as well – all committed to the survival of the Jewish people and the survival of the State of Israel.”
Victor has no regrets.
“I have spent all my life on this, but the time was always worth it. Whenever I was in negotiations in my law practice, because of my community involvement, people looked at me in a different way. They knew I had credibility. It enhanced the quality of my life,” he said.
Victor has no plans to retire from either the practice of law or volunteerism. And, after June 11, don’t call him “Dr. Victor.”
“For 25 years, I used to criticize guys who got honorary degrees and then called themselves ‘doctor,’ so I can’t do that,” he laughed.
The letter from Hebrew University lauded Victor as an “extraordinary example of an outstanding professional and community leader reflected in the wide variety of professional and community roles that you have undertaken throughout your life.
“The Stephen and Gail Victor Centre for Trial Advocacy at the Faculty of Law and the Stephen and Gail Victor Plaza at the Botanical Gardens on Mount Scopus are both results of your leadership and community respect,” said the letter. “In addition, you were instrumental in establishing the Stephen Victor Academic Exchange Scholarship between the University of Ottawa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”
The prominent Ottawa lawyer and community leader graduated from Carleton University in 1963 with a bachelor of commerce (economics) degree. Three years later, he earned his law degree from the University of Ottawa. Since then he has acted as lead counsel before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Federal Court Trial Division, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1981 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel.
He was the Ottawa JNF Negev Dinner honouree in 2006 and chose the Hebrew University’s Botanical Gardens on Mount Scopus as the recipient of the funds raised. The central plaza of the gardens was named the Stephen and Gail Victor Botanical Garden.
Today, he is delighted that the citation for his honorary doctorate mentions that the historic garden “stands as a living testimonial to the Victors’ decades of dedication to the university and to the Jewish people.”
For the convocation, he’ll be in Israel for 10 days, along with his wife Gail and their children and grandchildren.
“All of my community endeavours have been supported by my life partner Gail,” he said, “and any success that I’ve achieved is in large part due to her.”