Giller Prize creator Jack Rabinovitch honoured at funeral

TORONTO — Scotiabank Giller Prize creator Jack Rabinovitch was celebrated at his funeral on Wednesday for helping to usher in “an explosion of Canadian literary talent,” an unending quest for knowledge and his love of the written word.

Former interim Liberal leader and Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae recalled his longtime friendship with Rabinovitch, which spanned a quarter-century. Rae said he came to know the beloved businessman as a philanthropist and lover of the arts, passions that led to the creation of a lasting literary legacy with the prestigious Giller Prize.

Rabinovitch died Sunday at the age of 87 as a result of a “catastrophic fall” at his home last week.

The award was established in 1994, a year after the death of Rabinovitch’s wife, Doris Giller, and was created as an enduring tribute to the late literary journalist. The prize awards $100,000 to the winner and $10,000 to the other finalists, and is billed as the richest fiction prize in Canada.

“It has coincided with the explosion of Canadian literary talent in the past three decades and has without a doubt helped Canadian writers and the publishing industry immeasurably,” Rae said during his eulogy.

“The annual dinner and lunch with the winner have become an unforgettable event; and at the heart of it all is the affection and the support that people feel for Jack.”

Rae recounted the Montreal-born Rabinovitch’s early upbringing, where he “grew up poor, smart, irreverent and quick to learn about life,” learning math skills by counting coins for the family business.

“No matter how high he climbed, he never forgot where he came from and he was never intimidated by title or by success.”

Rae said in his view, Rabinovitch’s ability to make and keep friends was “his legacy above all else.”

“He cared about his friends, he cared about all of us. And it was never a club with a closed door. He was always curious about new ideas, new books, new people. He never stopped learning and asking questions.”

Rabinovitch’s three daughters, Noni, Daphna and Elana, also shared loving memories of their father and the man they knew away from the spotlight.

“My father had a lifelong love of learning and an insatiable curiosity,” said Elana Rabinovitch, the executive director of the Giller Prize.

His voracious appetite for the written word was evidenced in his reading materials, which included five newspapers a day, the New Yorker magazine every week, and “at least one book on the go at all times,” she recalled.

“He fostered in all of us a wonder about and love for — as he put it — the arsenal of language,” she said. “I will always be grateful that he showed us the value for and understanding of the wider world.”

Ontario Lt-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Griffin Poetry Prize founder Scott Griffin, award-winning investigative journalist and author Stevie Cameron, and filmmaker and author Barry Avrich were among those in attendance for the funeral at Beth Tzedec Congregation synagogue.

Media mogul Moses Znaimer, the creator of Bravo TV, which was the first telecast partner for the Giller Prize, said the award and the ensuing fanfare around the finalists and winner have helped change the lens through which Canadian literature is viewed.

“Before the advent of the Giller, there was no glamour to CanLit. There was aspiration, but there was no focus, there was no buzz,” Znaimer, the founder of ZoomerMedia, said following the service. “That’s what he did by creating the prize, and he was enormously successful.

“A lot of people launch things — ideas, charities and movements — and they don’t go anywhere. And this thing that Jack planted is here to stay.”


Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Mourners hug at a funeral service for the late Jack Rabinovich in Toronto on Wednesday.

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