Like most of us, life gets away from me sometimes, and I don't have time in my day to do all the things I normally do at the time I like to do them. Take reading the newspaper, for example. Normally, I read it while I'm eating my breakfast, assisted usually by a cat or two. Simon Q is especially fond of the paper and has been known to devour sections of it before going to sleep in the middle of the editorial pages. But since I've been eating my breakfast at my computer of late, the newspaper gets read in spurts when I have time. Like tonight at suppertime. I was just finishing the salmon and fiddleheads when I pushed Simon off the obituaries page and found this.
FISCHER, Dr. Gabriel - 85, Wolfville, passed away Saturday, May 31, 2008, at his home. Born in Satu-Mare, Romania, he was a son of a respected lawyer, the late Joseph and Ella (Adler) Fischer. He graduated Doctor in Law (Doctor Juris) from the University of Debrecen, Hungary in 1946. Before becoming a professor and eventually the Director at the Institute of International Relations in Bucharest, Romania, Dr. Fischer was Chief Editor of a Hungarian daily newspaper, "Free Life", in Romania. He later collaborated and edited another Hungarian language newspaper, "Forward", in Bucharest. After the Hungarian events in 1956, Dr. Fischer was forbidden to teach or write and was confined to his native city, Satu-Mare. In 1965, he immigrated to France with his family to join his brother, Georges Fischer. In 1966, Dr. Fischer was invited to the University of Alberta as a postdoctoral Fellow in Political Science. In 1969, he began his long career as a Professor of International Relations (Political Science) at Acadia University. He implemented numerous programs and served on a number of committees. He was passionate about his teaching and his students. He gave all of himself, to his students, to his colleagues, to his wife and to his children and grandchildren. He was an avid reader, a lover of fine objects and a chocolate connoisseur. Together with his wife, he traveled extensively to countries with exciting political situations, such as the Middle East and Latin America. He was predeceased by his wife of 31 years, Dr. Lois Vallely-Fischer.
It amazes me how much can be said, and how much omitted, in an obituary. To the casual observer, you read that this man was a political science at Acadia University, the other of my alma maters, and a writer and thinker from Europe who had seen and endured much. And he was eighty-five, and had lived a good life and full. But that doesn't give even the beginnings of who he was to countless students, family members, friends, and colleagues.
I first met Gabriel nearly 20 years ago, when I was working at the Blomidon Inn in Wolfville. He came in to make a request of the guest services department of the Inn. Some Russian and Ukrainian professors--or maybe they were still USSR, I don't remember! were coming to Acadia, and they were staying at the Inn, and arriving later that day. Would I greet them when they arrived with the traditional offering of bread and salt? I would indeed, though I pointed out I could say only one word in Russian, less in Ukrainian, and had no traditional garb. That didn't matter, he insisted, kissing both my cheeks and thanking me profusely. Of all the people I met while I worked there, Gabriel and the Russian professors--one of whom gave me a little trinket of a horse, with some words in Cyrillic text on the back--were among those I remember best.
My next meetings with Gabriel were only a couple of years later, when I decided to go back to university after a ten-year hiatus. His wife, Dr. Lois Vallely-Fischer, was dean of the faculty of arts, and welcomed me into the BA program with open arms--and later, with open funds, as they kindly gave me scholarships and fellowships to continue my studies. I switched into the honours program, decided to do an overload to get the 4 year degree done in 2 years, and asked permission of Gabriel to take his course in Peace Studies. "It would be an honour to have you there," were his words. No, it was an honour to BE there, listening to and learning from this man of peace.
Gabriel was an engaging speaker, with a prodigious amount of knowledge and experience in his mind, and while sometimes he would wander off topic a bit, he always kept it interesting. I don't remember how many languages he spoke, but they were numerous--somewhere between 7 and 9, it seems to me--and he was interested in everything, including the students who showed an interest in his course. I would credit him with being one of those who shaped who I am today in my beliefs and leanings, especially because he was so non-judgmental of all he met.
His wife died suddenly (to me) in September of 2005, and I was shocked and saddened, because Lois and Gabriel were inseparable, and always seen together out and about. In a tribute to her, one of her colleagues said that 'human rights lost a steadfast champion." So it is with Gabriel's passing. We are all poorer for his leaving this world, but richer for having known him in whatever capacity.
A new tree will be planted in my memory garden for Gabriel, beside the amelanchier shrub that marks Lois's passing. United in the garden as they were in so much of their life. And maybe one day, we'll see the peace that they both strove so hard for.