Robert Lionel Kopstein

My Story...

My father, Maxwell Kopstein, was born in 1890. At the age of 13 he left his home in Belarus, and travelled alone by ship to New York. There he worked as a delivery boy, a job that he kept, I believe, for about a year, when his older brother, who had immigrated to Canada some years earlier, and was working at or near Winnipeg in agriculture, brought my father to Winnipeg. In Winnipeg my father began to work, firstly as a printer's apprentice. A few years later his mother and two younger siblings also came to Winnipeg. In or about 1910 he enrolled in St. John's College, where he studied to earn a high school diploma. In about 1916 he entered Law School and four years later, on December 1, 1920 he was admitted to the bar as lawyer. During his career as a lawyer he earned distinction in the practice of law and was appointed a Queen's Counsel. He remained in active practice into his 90s, retiring in about 1985.

My father married my mother Sylvia Danzker in about 1926. She was born in Belarus in the year 1905. Her parents brought her to Canada as an infant with her older brother and sister. They settled in the town of Winkler. My mother attended grade school in Winkler, and came to Winnipeg in her teens where she attended Business College and then worked in a clerical job in Winnipeg. She and my father had 2 sons, my older brother, Joseph Noel, was born December 25, 1927. I was born on August 5, 1932. In the course of her married life she was a member of both Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Snap shot memories of my life at home as a child include sleigh rides, being taught to skate, being read stories at bedtime. My father was Zionist, and was active in other community organization and causes. I can still recall my mother in the kitchen, preparing meals and baking. I remember her tender care and her encouragement. She sometimes worked for candidates seeking political office.

I attended Queenston, Robert H. Smith and Kelvin High schools in Winnipeg. I enjoyed speed skating, debating, taking part in dramatic productions, and singing as a member of the chorus in three musical productions. I enjoyed listening to the classics, and I was interested in photography. As a teenager I belonged to a club at the YMHA.

I received a B.A. in 1955. I received a LLB and was called to the bar in 1958. I practiced until February of 1971 when I was retained by the Government to draft the regulations for the implementation of Autopac, a universal, public, compulsory automobile insurance plan. In November, 1971, I was appointed to the provincial bench, where I worked for 34 years until my retirement in 2006. During my tenure as a judge, I was asked on two different occasions by different governments to undertake challenging tasks outside the judicial sphere. In 1987 I was appointed Commissioner of the Autopac Review Commission to examine and recommend ways of improving the Autopac Insurance plan. My report, published in 1988, made several recommendations. The major recommendation advocated pure no-fault insurance coverage. That recommendation was implemented, not by the Government which had commissioned the report, but some four years later by a government of a different stripe.

My second special opportunity outside of my judicial work came a few months after my Autopac report was published. I was offered and accepted the opportunity to serve as Chair of the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba for a 3 year term while still continuing with my judicial duties. In that position I learned how, for the most part, the labour members of the board and management members respected each other's positions and decided most issues by consensus.

In 1954 I married Jean Robin, the light and love of my life. She has been my constant friend, my supporter, my most articulate and voluble "press agent" as well as my not infrequent critic. In work that she undertook in several different fields over the course of her employment she was always highly thought of by her peers. She has always made me proud.

In 1952 we were both undergrads at the University of Manitoba. I saw her in the hall, between classes. She looked smashing! I was smitten! We dated, "went steady", became engaged and were married in June of 1954 just about a month before she began her first teaching job, and I began my first year in law school.

Our daughter, Ivy Fay, was born in 1956. A social worker by profession she worked initially in Corrections, and later as social services director at St. Amant Centre. She is married to Murray Palay. They have 2 boys, Leo, and Max. Daughter, Ruth Leanne, was born in 1962. She is a radiological technologist and works as a computed tomography technician at the Health Sciences Centre. She is married to Chuck Green. They have 2 children, Louis, and Minnie. Son Alan was born in 1966. He is single, is a teacher, and works within the Winnipeg School Division. We are proud of each of them.

I belonged to and was president of the Lions Club of West Kildonan. I served on the board of the Winnipeg Hebrew School (the Talmud Torah), the board of the I.L. Peretz Folk School, the board of the Alcohol Foundation of Manitoba, the board of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. I've been a member and chair of the board of the Sharon Home Inc. I was also a member and served as president of the Manitoba Provincial Judges' Association.

My commitment to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba arises out the knowledge that a strong, well funded Foundation will continue to contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life within the Winnipeg Jewish Community.

My wish for future generations of my family is that they will be blessed with the good health, prosperity, and fulfillment that I have the good fortune to experience.