One of my family’s closest friends, Jerry Litman, passed away on July 22nd, 2020.
He played a monumental role in my life and was a legend to anyone who knew him. Jerry spent most of his adult life in Kenora as a dentist and continued practicing when he moved to Winnipeg where he finally retired with his now-deceased wife, Riva.
As a child, I remember how he would calm me as I sat nervously in the chair in his office. He would have me think of a piece of music and tell me to sing it in my head. At the same time, he would ask me to lift the index finger of my right hand. I would get completely preoccupied and confused. This was his genius way of distracting me so that I would not be aware of the pain from the drill.
For my Bar Mitzvah, Jerry gave me a book entitled “Man’s Best Friend”. He wrote on the inside cover, “always be kind to dogs as they are defenseless against humans.” I never forgot that sentiment and it has become a guiding principle of my adult life.
Jerry was a man who put his strong values and unbelievable kindness into practice. He would regularly fly up to the Northwest Territories and Hudson Bay area to provide dentistry for the Inuit. Many could not afford this service, and Jerry never expected payment for the work. But, as a result of his kindness, he has one of the most extensive Inuit soapstone collections in Canada.
In later years, my trips to Kenora would never be complete until I made a last stop at Jerry’s house on Waterloo Street in Winnipeg for dinner. His daughter Shelley and her husband, Dennis, would arrive a few minutes before armed with pizzas or Chinese food, depending on Jerry’s mood. The food was fine but the company was what really mattered.
Jerry celebrated his 92nd birthday a few days before he passed away. He called me a few months ago to say that he had an infection in one of his heart’s valves. He said he didn’t want surgery and felt it was his time to move on. We tried to find humor in that conversation, and my final words to him were that I would be up there to visit him sometime soon. Sadly, I won’t be able to keep that appointment.
If you ever asked Jerry how he was, he would always say, “I’m fine, thank you. But, more importantly, how are you?” That just who he was — always thinking of the other person first. The epitaph he chose for his tombstone is, “I’m fine, thank you”. How apropos.
Dr. Jerry Litman was a friend, a mentor and a beautiful human being. I will miss him.