Ron Ghitter and Gordon Hoffman were honoured in Calgary this month

Gordon Hoffman and Ron Ghitter are among the distinguished individuals who received honorary doctorates during spring convocation ceremonies at two Calgary universities.

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – Two respected members of the Alberta Jewish community are among the distinguished individuals who received honorary doctorates during spring convocation ceremonies at two Calgary universities.

It is a good-news story from which Calgarians and Edmontonians alike can shep naches.

Calgary lawyer Gordon J. Hoffman received an Honorary Doctor of Laws (Hon. LLD) at the University of Calgary convocation for students in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, and the Werklund School of Education on June 5.

It is a full-circle story for Hoffman who is an alumnus of the U of C where he earned his M. Ed. Hoffman, who was born and spent his first six years in the capital city, earned his B. A. and LL. B. at the University of Alberta.

When AJNews contacted Hoffman about his honorary degree, his first thought was to share the happy news that a friend of his, the Honourable Ronald G. Ghitter — who was also born and raised in Edmonton — was the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Mount Royal University on June 14.

“He is one of the best things we have going for us in the Jewish community,” said Hoffman of Ghitter. “He’s a wonderful man, a star in so many ways.”

“We’ve known each other forever,” said Hoffman, who added that decades back, his mother worked for Ghitter’s parents in their store, Betty Lou Ladies Apparel, in downtown Edmonton, across from the Hudson’s Bay department store.

“It’s a mutual admiration club,” Ghitter said of his relationship with Hoffman. “We talk frequently, and I sit on one of his boards…. When Gordy calls, you can’t say no, because he does such wonderful things in the community. He’s an outstanding philanthropic individual and richly deserving of the honour the University of Calgary is bestowing upon him.”

Hoffman and Ghitter addressed the graduates at the respective universities, sharing words of inspiration based on their many decades of community service and remarkable contributions to society.

In preparing his message, Hoffman said he would be encouraging graduates to “be good people,” a simple but profound message from a man who walks the talk. He would speak about architecture from a personal perspective based on projects in which he has been involved, touching on the intersection between architecture and education.

AJNews spoke to Ghitter as he was crafting his address to MRU humanities graduates.

“My bottom line message will be that they are the leaders of tomorrow….When you are leading, you must be respectful of the diversity within our community and you must be respectful of the freedoms that we enjoy in a democracy,” Ghitter said.

Unfortunately, society is experiencing huge challenges these days, said Ghitter, adding that he will stress the importance of preserving democracy.

“You have the right, of course, to freedom of speech, but there is a line that you must always protect so you’re not bullying or discriminating or prejudicing any identifiable group,” Ghitter added.

“There must be no place in our society for racism, for hatred, for Islamophobia, antisemitism, disrespect for members of our indigenous communities,” said Ghitter, eschewing, as well, discrimination based on colour, sexual orientation and religion.

Hoffman, who, like Ghitter, devotes himself to the common good, is being honoured by the U of C for his incredible track record as a philanthropist. He has personally participated in the efforts of close to 100 charities, quite a few of which he personally established. He is the founder, president and director of the Project Warmth Society of Alberta (and its spin-off organizations Kids’ Koats, Pupils’ Parkas and Students’ Scarfs); Project  Warmth Society of Canada; and Operation Kickstart Society of Alberta, to name only a few.

Hoffman is also the founder, chair and president of the Alberta Champions Society in Recognition of Community Enrichment. He has dedicated himself to helping children with learning disabilities and ADHD as evidenced by his longtime support of Foothills Academy. His eponymous Charity Golf tournament has, for the past 13 or 14 years, raised $1.5 million for the cause.

When asked about his golf game, Hoffman responds with a chuckle, admitting that he hasn’t hit the links since he was 19.

Hoffman has had a long and successful career as a lawyer whose practice focuses upon personal injury, real estate and corporate law. He has served as solicitor and/or advisor, director, honorary director, board member or officer for countless Jewish organizations including the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue, Calgary Jewish Community Council, B’nai Brith Calgary Lodge #816, the Calgary Jewish Senior Citizens Residence Society, Beth Tzedec Sisterhood; Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta and the Calgary Jewish Family Loan Association.

Within the community at large, he has similarly served a diverse range of community organizations including faith, inter-faith, cultural, arts and sports organizations.

Together with Eva, his bride of 56 years, Hoffman has chaired more high-profile and highly-successful fundraising galas than can be described in these pages. Those of which Hoffman is most proud include concerts featuring former Beth Tzedec Congregation Cantor Alex Stein, musician and composer Marvin Hamlisch, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Neal Sedaka, and Joel Gray.

Some of these blockbuster events were held at Beth Tzedec, a point of pride for the Hoffmans, who are longtime congregants there. Funds they have raised over the years have benefited the Synagogue, Jewish organizations including JNF, and a plethora of organizations serving the greater community.

“We have had a lot of fun with these charities and we’ve done good work,” Hoffman said.

One project that was especially meaningful to the Hoffmans was bringing Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to Calgary in 2006 when he addressed a full house at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

“It was one of the most important things we’ve ever done,” said Gordy Hoffman, who takes pride in the fact that Eva—the daughter of two Holocaust survivors—co-chaired the community’s Holocaust Remembrance Committee for many years.

The Hoffmans have two children and four grandchildren.

Hoffman’s list of honours is lengthy. In addition to his Queen’s Council designation in 2000 and appointment to the Order of Canada (Canada’s second-highest civilian honour) in 2019, Hoffman has received awards and recognitions from a very long list of Jewish organizations. In 2008, he and Eva were co-honourees at the JNF Gala celebrating the modern state of Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Gordy is the 2011 recipient of the Ben Docktor Award of Excellence (B’nai Brith). The same year he and Eva were Co-Honourees of Theatre Calgary’s Night with the Stars. Other major recognitions have included the City of Calgary Citizen of the Year Award (2010), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Pin (2022).

Ron Ghitter earned his B. A. and LL. B. from the University of Alberta and practiced law for 25 years, later serving as Executive Vice President of Development for Trizec Corporation before establishing Ron Ghitter Property Consultant Inc. In 1993, Ghitter co-founded Certus Developments Inc, a business that is still active.

Ghitter served as a director of Bentall Corporation for 16 years, seven of them as chair.

Everything started with tennis, says Ghitter, which has been a lifelong passion.

“Tennis was significant to me because…it put me through law school,” said Ghitter, who played, taught tennis for the City of Edmonton, and gave private lessons.

Decades later, Ghitter paid forward his gratitude to the sport when he served as a director of Tennis Canada and founder of the state-of-the-art Osten and Victor Alberta Tennis Centre in Calgary. Fittingly, Ghitter was inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame (builder’s category) in 2022.

In these rough and tumble times, Ghitter is no doubt missed in an increasingly polarized political arena. Twice elected as an Alberta MLA — in 1971 and 1975 — he represented the inner-city constituency of Calgary Buffalo. Though he “resisted offers for a cabinet position,” Ghitter chaired committees relating to liquor laws and condominium legislation.

Most notably, while serving in the Peter Lougheed government, Ghitter introduced Alberta’s Individual Rights Protection Act, beginning a journey in the promotion of human rights that continues to this day. In 2022, Ghitter founded the Dignity Forum, a non-profit corporation dedicated to counteracting “the growing cancer of prejudice and discrimination evident in the nation.”

Ghitter chaired the Alberta government’s Committee on Tolerance and Understanding in the aftermath of the Keegstra affair when it came to light that former mayor and high school social studies teacher James Keegstra had been promoting antisemitism and Holocaust denial, poisoning the minds of his high school students in the rural town of Eckville, Alberta.

Ghitter served as chair of the Arts and Culture Initiative at the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary.

Appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1993, the Honourable Ronald G. Ghitter chaired the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. He retired from Canada’s upper house in 2000.

Ghitter has been the recipient of numerous honours through the years. He was appointed QC in 1978 and received the Human Relations Award, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews (1985); the Alberta Human Rights Award, Alberta Human Rights Commission (1990); Alberta Centennial Medal (2005); and the Gerald L. Gall Human Rights Award, John Humphrey Center of Peace and Human Rights (2012).

In 2018, Ghitter was appointed to the Order of Canada. Just last year, he was honoured with an Over 70 Award (recognizing the accomplishments of Calgarians over the age of 70).

Ghitter and his wife Myrna have been married for 30 years. He has one daughter from a previous marriage and two grandchildren. Myrna has two daughters and one granddaughter.

“Myrna has been by my side in all our philanthropic endeavours and has been a marvelous and wise participant,” said Ghitter.

Both Ron Ghitter and Gordy Hoffman reacted to the news of their Honorary Doctors of Law degrees with humility and gratitude.  Each considers it important for members of the Jewish community to engage in and support the society of which they are a part.

“It’s fun that Gordy and I are being recognized and nice to see a couple of Jewish guys in that category,” said Ghitter.

“With all the [chaos] that’s happening in the world, especially after October 7, it’s nice for people to know that we as Jews are involved in the community and doing good things for the community. That’s what I’m proudest of,” Hoffman told AJNews. “It’s important for the world to see that.”

Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.


1 Comment on "Ron Ghitter and Gordon Hoffman were honoured in Calgary this month"

  1. Kol Hakovod, Gordy and Ron… for this most current recognition… goes way beyond well deserved.

    David EIsenstadt / Toronto

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