Brian Paul Goodman

Fiercely competitive and hard-working, he rose through the legal ranks. After a long career, he had big retirement plans.

Brian Paul Goodman

Illustration by Ted McGrath

Brian Paul Goodman was born on June 2, 1947, in Toronto, to David Goodman, a furrier, and Pearl, a homemaker originally from Poland. Brian was skinny with brown curly hair and the eldest of four boys. He spent summers at the family cottage in Belle Ewart, on Lake Simcoe, with his brothers Jeff, Stuart and Andy, and his cousins. “The cottage was Brian’s sanctuary,” recalls Stuart. “He grew up there fishing, swimming, water-skiing. Brian loved playing horseshoes at the cottage. He was damn competitive. He wasn’t the best at every sport but there was no one who tried harder.”

Equally determined at school, Brian became school president in junior high. “He was a fierce competitor and strong-willed,” recalls his friend Michael Gilman. In high school, Brian worked long Saturday shifts in a shop serving smoked fish and cheeses from behind the counter. “I distinctly remember him smelling of fish and cheese,” says Stuart.

Brian was very social, too—a good storyteller who liked to tell jokes around the dinner table. He played piano, acted and joined the Hart House theatre while studying at the University of Toronto. As he developed into adulthood, he grew a moustache, hit “five feet, 11.5 inches,” as he liked to say, and filled into his natural barrel-chested shape.

Brian went on to Osgoode Hall Law School, paying his own way through summer jobs. He was always interested in law, a profession his grandfather had wanted for Brian’s dad, who instead chose to stay in the family furrier business. As a student, Brian volunteered at a free legal clinic for the disadvantaged. It confirmed his passion for law and also sparked his love of dogs: A couple who lived on a farm and used his services at the clinic gave him a puppy as a thank you. Brian named it Justy, short for justice.

During law school, he married Anne-Liis Ots, whom he had met at a party. After graduating, he was excited to land his first big job, articling for the firm Robbins and Robbins doing union law. One year after he was called to the bar, in 1975, his daughter Rachel was born. Though his career flourished, his marriage ended in divorce and his heart was broken. He found love again on a Club Med holiday in Martinique in 1981, where he met Dale Mileris, a pharmacist who shared his passion for travel. Dale knew it was serious when he bought her a pair of earrings on Valentine’s Day during their week-long holiday. They married a year later. Dale’s family was Lithuanian, and because his first wife, Anne-Liis, was of Estonian background, “My dad often joked that he raided the Baltics,” recalls Sarah.

Brian had three more children with Dale: Sarah, Daniel and Patricia. There were also lots of pets: Coco the dog, Tootsie the cat, and a series of budgies, all named Tweetie. He worked hard in those days, devoted to his job as a senior lawyer and executive in the Ontario public service, but he always made time for family. Sarah remembers waking up to her dad playing piano and singing at the top of his lungs on Sundays.

In 2001, he joined the federal Immigration and Refugee Board. He got an apartment in Ottawa and travelled home each weekend. He moved up the ranks to become chair of the IRB in 2007. In 2009, he took on extra work with the Council of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges, helping shape policy and aiding in emergencies. “He felt everyone deserved a chance at a better life,” says Sarah.

After years of long hours at work and his wife’s good cooking, Brian gained weight. He developed adult-onset diabetes, and suffered from sleep apnea. Stress was a concern, too: Brian’s father had died of a heart attack in Florida. He decided to wind down a demanding career, and retire from the IRB. He was looking forward to time with his wife and children. In February, he became a grandfather when Rachel gave birth to a son, Nassim. “He wanted to spend more time at the cottage and go out west to visit his grandson a lot,” says Sarah. His final day at the IRB was June 19, but he had unused vacation time. So on June 15, he headed to Boca Raton, Fla., with Dale to start his retirement a few days early.

On June 18, one day before his official last day of work, Brian and Dale went for a walk on the beach. Dale sunbathed and guarded their bags while Brian went in the water. He walked up to his chin then collapsed. Dale pulled him out but Brian had died of heart arrhythmia. He was 66.

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