Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 22, 2010
Faith sustains chief justice's life
Allan Wachowich leaves the Court House June 1 but expects to still be working in law, maybe teaching
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Time has been kind to Chief Justice Allan Wachowich. At 75, he looks fit and sharp enough to serve perhaps another decade at the helm of Alberta's justice system.
Judges, however, are compelled by law to retire at 75 and Wachowich is ready to obey. His office tells the story. The walls look bare and so does his desk. Gone are the family photos and the photos of him and the different popes he has met.
Wachowich has been busy packing. Many other boxes have already been hauled away, like the 18 or so boxes filled with documents and pictures and recognitions he donated to the archives of the Legal Society of Alberta.
He is also sending memorabilia to St. Basil and St. Matthew schools to help with these schools' Polish and Ukrainian programs respectively.
Is the chief justice a hoarder? "I have come from a background of being raised by parents who suffered through the Depression and therefore they collected everything as did I," he explains.
Colleagues and subordinates already said their goodbyes to Wachowich, who expects to leave the Court House June 1.
Wachowich promises his retirement "won't be boring." He likely will spend it working. He's had a job ever since age nine, when was a paperboy, and can't imagine himself idle. He plans to take time off to garden, golf and travel and then he will go back to practising law in some way.
"I will find myself associated with a law firm or take any kind of appointment that I would find interesting through government agencies and there is a very good chance that I may end up teaching (law) overseas," he said. "I've done that in Ukraine. I've done that in Russia. There is a good chance I might be doing that in Vietnam."
As a teenager, Wachowich served as an altar boy and harboured dreams of being a priest. Even though he ended up taking a different career path, he has remained a committed Catholic, leading an unparalleled life of service to the Church and community.
Over the years, Wachowich has served in more than 30 organizations, including the boards of Church organizations such as the WCR, the Friars, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Catholic Charities and the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers' Guild.
"I've always felt a person should try to return some kind of effort to one's community," he says.
Wachowich was born in Edmonton March 8, 1935, one of eight children. His dad was Polish and his mom Ukrainian. "But my mother was born in the part of Poland that spoke Ukrainian and they sort of mixed both languages when I was growing up and I could never figure out whether the words that I learned were Polish or Ukrainian."
Wachowich completed his high school at St. Joseph's High School. Over the years his peers pushed him into leadership positions, including voting him president of his high school grad class and captain of his basketball teams both at high school and university.
But it is his experiences as an altar server he recalls with the most affection. He served Mass for priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals. "I think I was 10 years old when I started and I served Mass for Archbishop MacDonald three mornings a week for close to two years," he recalled.
"He had a reputation for dismissing altar boys if he was dissatisfied with them. He only got angry with me once because I had received a ring at Christmas and I was sort of blowing on the ring and rubbing it against my cassock. I made noise and he gave me that Archbishop MacDonald look that I'll never forget."
Wachowich gave very serious thought to becoming a priest when in Grade 12. When he saw his good friend Mike McCaffery go to the seminary, he thought, "Maybe I should reconsider."
But when Father MacDonald, the principal of St. Joseph's High, asked Wachowich if he had given any thought to going into the priesthood, Wachowich said, 'Yes, I have given it a thought but, Father, I have to tell you I just like girls too much."
Wachowich ended up going to university where he met Bette Byers, a "very fine woman." The couple married in 1959 and raised four children, two of whom are lawyers. He graduated in law from the University of Alberta in 1958 and was called to the Bar of Alberta in 1959 and appointed a judge in 1974. Wachowich was appointed associate chief justice of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench in 1993 and chief justice in 2001.
The retiring chief justice gives credit to his parents for his achievements. "Education was the most important thing that my parents could give us, although my father spent one day in Grade 1; he was self-educated," he explained. "My mother went up to Grade 3."
Asked about his legacy, Wachowich pointed out that during his tenure "we have had a very collegial court that works well together" and that has adapted to the use of technology in the judicial system.
Wachowich mentioned several important cases he has been involved in, including the liquidation of the Canadian Commercial Bank from 1985 to 2000 and several criminal law cases, which became landmark cases in that they changed the law. One is the Regina vs. Bridges case, "which resulted in police having to not only give a warning to a person who is subject to an arrest but also (mention his or her right) to legal aid."
Wachowich also mentioned his involvement in the tracing of assets into Canada of Banco Ambrossiano of Italy, whose manager, Roberto Calvi, known as "God's banker" due to his association with the Vatican, was found hanging from a bridge in 1982, following the bank's collapse.
"There was much intrigue because Calvi's widow and son were found residing in a ranch just outside of Edmonton," recalled Wachowich. "I was a little bit concerned because when I read the affidavits two judges who had touched the files in Italy had disappeared."
City lawyer Rosanna Saccomani, who has known Wachowich for more than 30 years described the justice as caring and compassionate.
"Justice Wachowich has always understood the struggle of new Canadians given his own humble beginnings," Saccomani said March 16 in a written statement. "To his credit, the boy from Opal has never forgotten his roots. These have profoundly shaped and molded him as a deeply compassionate and caring human being committed to public service, the cause of justice and the rule of law."
A member of St. Joseph's Basilica Parish, Wachowich says prayer has always been important. "At this stage in my life, I do say prayers of thanksgiving for all God has provided me and my family in so many diverse ways."
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