Implementation Manager, DAG
Friend, collaborator, inspiration, teacher and (if I were to believe him) in some small way student, correspondent, boss, occasional stone in my shoe, partner in many things: Ivan was all these and more to me over the last thirty years, and his death leaves a hole in my life that will never be adequately described, never be filled.
I met Ivan when we were both students at the University of Manitoba, and our friendship continued with but a few gaps for the rest of Ivanís much-too-soon-ended life, and for the last few years I had the privilege of working with him at DAG.
A more unlikely friendship would have been hard to imagine in those intoxicating student days of passionate causes and infinite possibility. Ivan -- deeply engaged in politics, left-most of the left, a student brilliant and disciplined, already clearly on the path toward the academic honors that were to come to him. Me -- right-wing loud-mouth, new Catholic convert, undisciplined, ignoring classes, hopelessly mistaking literature for life, wandering through university and life on a book and a six-pack a day.
Yet meet we did, and, with the audacity and complete confidence of success that were to mark Ivanís side of our friendship right up to the last conversation we had, last Tuesday morning, almost before we finished shaking hands he had enlisted me to edit a play that he had written for the left-wing paper that he and a few others published. The play was really quite awful -- both before and after I worked on it -- but the experience was really quite wonderful. Together we were to produce more issues of that little magazine, which somewhere along the way added to politics music, film, and the debunking of myths and cant of all kinds. Whether it was Immanuel Velikovsky or the newly hatched fad of students formally "evaluating" their teachers -- Ivan had little use for it, and said so.
As I think back over those student days what strikes me most is how many of the passions and paradoxes of our friend were already there.
Ivan the politico -- but with a taste for quality and a little luxury -- surely the only Maoist in Manitoba who drove a Mercedes.
Ivan the entrepreneur -- he bought that ancient Mercedes for $500, drove it as long it ran, and then sold it for $500.
Ivan the collector and nurturer of friends and collaborators -- whose office in a trailer on campus was always over-heated and smoke-filled beyond belief -- but anytime you dropped by you were sure to find the interesting, the eccentric and the intelligent deep in some discussion or argument -- of which Ivan was somehow always the instigator and the energy.
Ivan the -- how shall I say it? -- gourmand-in-progress. How many summer nights did we sit for hours on the wooden fire escape of his third-floor walk up, talking for hours, fuelled always by coffee, halvah -- and whatever finest quality cheese and cold cuts we could afford that day on our meager student purses?
Ivan the hardest working, most disciplined person Iíve ever known -- who, after those late nights of talk, when I at last had staggered home to bed, would stay up for many more hours doing mathematics. I often wondered if he ever slept.
Ivan the inspiration and leader, always getting more out of you than you thought you had to give. I remember one Christmas holiday when I was in the hospital for a few weeks. Other campus friends dropped by with books and gossip and entertainment. Ivan strode into my room with several issues of Le Devoir and a French-English dictionary. It seemed that Pierre Vallieres, then in hiding from the Surete, had written a new book in the form of a series of long letters to the newspaper, and Ivan thought it was important that the book be translated into English. Never mind that Iíd never taken a university-level French course, it was enough that I had once bragged to him of excelling in French in high school (not all that hard to do on the Canadian prairies in the 60s) and could occasionally be seen reading a French magazine. I was going to translate the book, he said, and while I was doing that he was going to arrange to have it published.
Well, as any of you who have been enlisted -- inspired, really -- by Ivan to do something can understand, I worked harder on that translation than I ever did on a university course. While Ivan the salesman, as all who worked with him at DAG could have predicted, had it in print the very week it was completed. And he did that kind of thing again and again over the years, with writing, with music, with language and ideas -- with all the interests we shared.
Very early in our friendship, maybe even when we were working on that awful play, I happened to say to Ivan that, when creating something, you had to have mud before you could make a sculpture. And the important thing, always, was to just get to work on the mud. He loved that idea. How often I received a first draft of something from him, with a note: "Hereís some mud; letís make a sculpture." And how often he used it on me, when I was blocked or afraid or just lacked confidence in myself -- whether over an article in years gone by or over a sales proposal or web site at DAG. He had little time for analyzing and even less for psychoanalyzing. Heíd simply say, "Just make some mud." And because he was Ivan, most times I did just that, and before I knew it we had something that excited him and made me feel good about myself.
Yet somehow -- and this, I believe, was his greatest gift to me, as to many others -- somehow Ivan taught and inspired and encouraged, while all the time making me believe that it was I who was teaching him. Well, my friend, itís a little late but Iím finally on to your trick. I know it was you doing the giving all along. I know you gave me the lionís share of whatever is good in me.
As for Ivan, his life was -- is -- a magnificent sculpture ... more like a whole gallery of sculptures: husband, father, son, scientist, teacher, entrepreneur, friend, how many others? The sculptures will always be with us. But I will miss him -- I do miss him. We shall all miss him. Thank you.