Sunday, November 22, 2009

Farewell, my friend

This has been a hard week. It opened with news that one of our dear friends had passed away, and closed with the emotional conviction and sentencing of a cop killer. I don't want to dwell on the latter, but I do want to say something about the passing of my friend, Greg Nearing. This is my column from the November issue of the Law Society newsletter:

I first met Greg in court when I was a reporter in the early 1990s. Greg was an exceptional criminal defence lawyer, and while he often had the higher profile cases on the docket, he was just as ready to go full bore for someone accused of a simple assault or shoplifting. He was a passionate believer in legal aid, and for a time served on the F/P/T working group on legal aid while he was with the Legal Services Board of the NWT.

Born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Greg was a proud X-man who earned a BA from St. F/X in 1982, and graduated Dalhousie School of Law in May, 1986. He moved to Yellowknife shortly thereafter to article at what was then Richard, Vertes, Peterson & Schuler under his principal, Ted Richard, and swore his Oath to become a member of the Law Society on September 11, 1987 before Justice de Weerdt.

His career would eventually take him to both Departments of Justice here, although the bulk of his time was spent with Legal Aid, where he eventually became Executive Director. In 2002, he returned to private practice, moving to Nunavut when his wife Diane was offered a position with the Nunavut government.

Service to the profession was a big part of who Greg was. He was President of the CBA NWT branch in 1996-97, Treasurer of the Law Society in 1998, and President in 1999. He was also a loyal member of the discipline committee in 2001-2002, and even ended up chairing the social committee in 2001, when he was the only volunteer (until Linda donated the services of that year’s articling crop to help out). After moving east, Greg continued to serve the profession as Treasurer of the Law Society of Nunavut in 2004-2005. As our Law Society President, Greg holds the record for chairing the shortest AGM, at 45 minutes, in 1999. It is likely a feat that will never be repeated.

Greg was a complicated guy who faced a lot of challenges in his life, but when he was on, no one was quicker on his feet or more fun to be around. I never had an opportunity to run a file or do a circuit with Greg, but I got to know him in social contexts, him with his omnipresent diet cola in hand, always foraging around for snacks. While it was impossible for him to sit through an entire movie without taking at least one break to go play videogames in the lobby, he somehow amassed an encyclopaedic knowledge of film. In the ‘90s, Diane and I took sailing lessons together one summer, and got in the habit thereafter of renting a sailboat on weekends to putter around the bay. Greg was a constant presence, frequently called upon to assemble lunch below decks or haul on some rope to hoist a sail. He was unfailingly good humoured about his role on these excursions, and together as we drifted past Dettah, we would often comment on the hounds baying at the morning sun.

For my birthday in 1996, Greg arrived at the party with cards he had created listing out a couple dozen suitable topics for dinner conversation. Alongside the serious - the link between individualism and the disintegration of American society (such as it is) – were more fanciful subjects, like the role of underwear in safety consciousness, memories of grade 4, and the colour yellow. I have kept a copy of that card framed in my home office ever since, and every time I read it, it makes me laugh. It was an awesome gift and so totally Greg.

A couple of years later, during my first year of law school, Greg and Karan Shaner were in Montreal for meetings and called upon me to show them around the city. What followed was a wild afternoon and evening involving haunted houses, bakeries, cobblestoned streets, a strip bar, and a bank security guard alarmed at our use of Greg’s newfangled digital camera (pre-9/11, you could alarm a security guard without being thrown in jail). For obvious reasons, I’m adopting a “what happens on the road stays on the road” approach to the details, but suffice to say it is one of my fondest memories of spending time with Greg.

Gregory Charles Nearing was 48 when he died unexpectedly.

He will be missed.