06/29/2015 04:34 EDT | Updated 06/29/2016 05:59 EDT

Remembering A. Alan Borovoy

Alan Borovoy was my friend, my mentor, my boss, and my most worthy opponent. He drove me nuts.

Since his death from natural causes in May, there have been hundreds of words written to describe Alan's brilliance, his reverence for democracy and human rights, his courage and his tenacity. All of these words are true. But they paint a picture of a somewhat sainted, Don Quixote-like hero.

Don't get me wrong. Alan was my hero, too. However, he never would have let the above paragraph leave the office without a comma being added between the words "courage" and "and". He used commas like road salt, and he insisted that everyone else do it, too. In the 28 years that I worked with Alan, not a sentence left the office without being scrutinized and re-written again and again. Like the lawyer he was, he wanted to ensure that all of his meanings were water-tight - nothing should be left to a chance misinterpretation.

He said he had "perfect-pitch" for language. Perhaps this is why Alan never actually wrote a single word. He dictated them to be typed by a series of impossibly patient and dedicated assistants. His five books, hundreds of letters, briefs, affidavits, and articles, were all spoken into a machine that he kept in a grungy bag that he schlepped everywhere. The company that made the dictating machines no longer exists. It was called Assman.

When Borovoy retired, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association gave him a gala party and a laptop computer. He never learned to do anything other than read email (he dictated his responses), Google himself, and find Al Jolson songs to play so loudly that they could be heard by everyone on the block. To say he was a Luddite is to credit him with intent. Surely no one thought he intended to continually hit the intercom button on the phone so that his dismay at having yet again spilled coffee over the mountain of papers on his desk would be broadcast to the entire office.

Alan had sneezures, as he liked to call them. He never sneezed just once. He proudly announced that his record was 17 sneezes in a row. It took a half hour and had everyone in his vicinity counting and holding their breath waiting for the end to come. "Surely that HAD to be the last one!" my colleagues and I would whisper to one another.

For many years, I wore two hats at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Education Trust, and another one for the Public Review Board (first for the CAW and then for Unifor). Alan was my boss and supervisor in all of these roles. On days when I was zooming around, trying to be two places at once, Alan would interrupt me by bellowing over the transom, "Danielle! Come sit!" He had a new idea to try out or he wanted to disparage someone whose substandard view on a civil liberties issue had been published in the day's papers (Alan bought and read three papers each day). I congratulate myself for nearly always having the sense to drop everything I was doing to go and sit. Because when I did, I was paid the greatest compliment of all. Alan wanted my opinion.

A little while ago, Alan's cousin, his Executor (one of Alan's closest friends), and I cleared out his office for the last time. The mountain of papers, the huge collection of empty coffee cups, the speaker's gifts in their unopened packages, the uncashed cheques, the certificates, medals, and photographs are gone now. Alan will not be back to bellow, create havoc, or make me crazy. I may never recover.