Paul Hermiston learned at an early age to stand up for what he believed in, to stand alone when he needed to and to care for those he loved with great passion. Born and raised in Cobalt, mining ran deep in his veins and girls ran eagerly into the arms of this dashing young man with the daring sense of humour.
When he finished high school and headed south for his university education, his choice in a life partner was wise, passionate and life-giving. Holly Kent joined Paul Hermiston and they moved to Barrie for his law practice at Stewart Esten Law Firm and to raise two kids, Greer and Ben. While Holly’s energy went into volunteer work and the pursuit of excellence at the Bridge table and the ski hill, Paul sought out litigation challenges and met them with huge success.
He understudied and he mentored… seniors and juniors at Stewart Esten Law Firm were the victims of Paul’s wacky sense of humor and his impeccable sense of taste. He wanted it all, did it all, dared others to join him and lived a full life long before many had figured out what really mattered. On July 16, at age 67, Paul died at Royal Victoria Hospital.
Tuesday afternoon, Adams Funeral Home was at capacity as Paul’s grandchildren, children, wife, siblings, colleagues and friends came to ensure his send-off to the next level was complete. With humour, with tears, with funny phrases, with humility his eulogies captured the essence of an individual who said “YES!” to life.
The young criminal lawyer became the senior litigator. The senior litigator became the judge, called to the Bench in 1991. His colleague Justice Bob Weeks let everyone in on regular meetings in judges’ chambers, discussions, trade-offs, tirades of anger, acceptances of what couldn’t be changed.
Paul Hermiston became “Hermy” for the rest of his send-off and speakers like Bill Leslie shared stories of respect and deprecating humour that let those in the room laugh in relief.
Hermy’s life was large; his loves of flight, sports cars, alpine ski racing, boating, Georgian Bay, Kempenfelt Bay, kids, community, law and law partners were all there.
The greatest of all loves gets tested during the “in illness and in health” part and that’s where Paul and Holly Hermiston set out a decade ago to play the hand that life dealt them.
Paul left his judge’s chambers prematurely, in his late 50’s, when he started to get sick. Mysterious lack of coordination, brain not connected with body, a combination of symptoms that felt like MS and ALS combined… it took awhile to get a diagnosis and it took the strength of an already-strong couple to embrace the bewildering disease of Ataxia and make space for it in a life that was already remarkable.
As Paul’s body continued to weaken, Paul and Holly kept up activities that were possible. They went to funerals of dear friends. They reached out to their community and took in strength. Paul kept his stoic sense of self–the same self that survived when his Dad died way too young–and put his energy into the woman who had always been his anchor.
The Hermiston kids gathered closely and the family stood strong. In the middle of it all as Paul’s condition deteriorated and medical experts suggested Royal Victoria Hospital was where he belonged, Holly brought Paul home, where he wanted to be. That alone takes 24-hour courage and when it’s all said and done, we can often measure ourselves by the people who most care about us.
Paul Hermiston was a wealthy man. Even in his last days at RVH last week, his impishness played out as he pleaded with son-in-law Kyle to help him escape. Kyle did. For a bit the two drove around enjoying the freedom of a car, letting Paul know he still had some kind of control.
Tuesday’s goodbye, celebration, thank you service was a microcosm of love and loving remembrance. Barrie’s legal community was out in full force to remember and send off one of their own. Bill Leslie, Paul’s junior who is now a senior in the Stewart Esten firm, remembered his mentor with great humour and with great respect. “He had a good mind. He grasped legal principles quickly. He had a vast vocabulary and possessed an innate ability to describe events and his legal argument with precise and clear language.”
Those skills made Hermy very persuasive. His ‘zingers’ would go right to the heart of the matter and stop an opponent in his tracks. His ‘flickers’ would call an end to a meeting immediately. His enthusiasm could get a doctor onside to make sure a colleague got a medical solution that left him complete a ski vacation rather than cancel it.
He loved politics. He loved jazz. He loved to think. He included all people, not just a few, in his decisions and his philosophies.
He had a puppy-like joy of life and his daughter Greer caught the imagination of everyone as she described her father, arriving at the family cottage, running into the building and out onto the balcony to yodel at the top of his lungs. It’s a skill of joy and the skies of Georgian Bay will echo for a long time!