Israel Harold Asper, O.C., O.M., Q.C., L.L.D.
(August 11, 1932 – October 7, 2003)
From the day he was born in Minnedosa, Manitoba, on August 11, 1932, Dr. Israel Asper reached for the stars, excelling at whatever he did. He was a leader, someone to whom people always turned for advice or when things needed to get done. The breadth of his creative intellect first manifested itself during his years at the University of Manitoba, where he was involved in and excelled at a wide variety of activities ranging from championship debating, writing for and editing the student newspaper, participating in student parliament, and directing the annual student variety show, Varsity Varieties.
In 1956 Dr. Asper married Babs, who became his partner in his life adventures. After graduating from the University of Manitoba Law School (from which he later obtained his Master of Laws in 1964), he went on to become Canada’s foremost tax lawyer, writing a nationally syndicated column for over five years. He then decided to enter public service, becoming Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party from 1970 to 1975. His next career was as a businessman and entrepreneur, turning a small investment in CKND TV Winnipeg into CanWest Global Communications Corp., a multi-billion dollar media empire.
Most important to Dr. Asper was his much anticipated “fourth career” which he launched in 1997, when he resigned as CEO of CanWest to become Executive Chairman so he could focus on doing what gave him the most satisfaction: giving back to his community, or as he put it, “paying his debts.” He always said that in return for society giving him an opportunity to succeed, he felt he owed something back.
His beloved Asper Foundation, which he created in 1983, is the vehicle through which Dr. Asper’s philanthropy has been and will be carried out. That is what he did. But who was he? Everything he did, or attempted to do, was world class. And of course, there was nothing that could not be done in the mind of Israel Asper. He dreamed, he led, he fought the necessary battles, and as a result, he accomplished whatever he set out to do. He was the true Renaissance Man. His love of jazz is legendary. He was keenly interested in the affairs of his city, province and nation, and he contributed to life in his community by involving himself in public policy-making and by his philanthropy.
His friends and colleagues watched with admiration and awe as he worked tirelessly to achieve his dream of a Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, to commemorate the victims of abuse and to teach people the importance of standing up for the protection of human rights. This $351 million project is his last and greatest achievement. His family dedicated themselves to making his dream a reality.
Dr. Asper’s commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people cannot be overstated. Those who knew him will always remember his clarity of thought, his lightning quick wit and his brilliant debating skills. He saw around corners, knew how to prepare in advance for every eventuality, and always introduced a new angle with every discussion. Dr. Asper was a great raconteur, he was charismatic, charming, a bon vivant, an entertainer and a man of great humour. He lived long enough to instill his values into his family, who now carry forward his love of Winnipeg, the State of Israel the arts and his fellow human beings.
Israel Asper Tribute Video Gallery
Miracle at the Forks, Part 2: The Dreamer
Video Tribute to Israel Asper Created by the Asper School of Business
Israel Asper – 2013 Junior Achievement Manitoba Business Hall of Fame Inductee
“I am the offspring of immigrants and Prairie immigrants at that. And these people who would otherwise have been cinders in one of Hitler’s ovens have a great sense of gratitude to Canada for offering them shelter… people arriving with no money, people arriving not being able to speak a word of English from all over the place. And so you get taught that you owe and you have an undischarged debt to this country… we don’t say we’re our brother’s keeper, but we do say we’re our brother’s helper… and that’s part of the culture in the Prairies.”
“Anybody can give money or time or whatever resource they have. What counts for me is making a difference, causing things to happen that would have not happened if you didn’t come this way. That is pleasurable.”