Yesterday I was honoured to be invited to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for an 'evening of tribute' to Dr. Peter Oberlander who passed away last December at the age of 86. Peter was a remarkable man, and I decided to write this post in the hope that it will inspire others to achieve as much as he did over his career. And what a career!
Peter Oberlander was an architect, planner, educator, politician, author, public servant, Citizenship Court judge, and much, much more. He operated on the local, national, and international stages...whether stopping an expressway or serving as Chair of the School Board in Vancouver , creating Canada's intergovernmental policy on cities and urban affairs, or organizing the World Urban Forum with the United Nations.
He was also deeply involved with Vancouver's Jewish Community, helping to start Congregation Temple Shalom and the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, just to name two accomplishments.
I first met Peter in 1972 when I was a junior architect/planner with Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and he was Secretary (Deputy Minister) of the recently formed Ministry of State for Urban Affairs. He had already graduated in architecture from McGill, earned a masters and doctorate from Harvard in planning, practiced architecture and planning, and started Canada's first planning school at UBC. David Crinion offered me my government job. Peter was offered his by Trudeau!Our paths crossed many times over subsequent years at Granville Island/False Creek, Harbourfront Toronto, the World Urban Forum 3, at meetings of Lambda Alpha International, and so many more venues.
I also got to know two of his family members; Cornelia, the world renowned landscape architect, and his daughter Judy, who has to be one of the most decent, caring people in the world. As the Director of the SFU City Program, she helped create one of the best urban education programs in Western Canada.
At the Tribute, people talked about Peter's role in helping to establish the first regional planning board in the Lower Mainland, the accomplishments of the UBC Planning School, his architectural and planning achievements all over the world, and his tireless efforts on behalf of the public. He received many honours for his accomplishments, including being named a Freeman of the City at the last meeting of the outgoing Vancouver City Council. It was one of the few unanimous votes!
I particularly admired the fact that Peter kept working well into his eighties without any thought of retirement. But my favourite Oberlander story...the day he told me, with a tear in his eye, that he had just been appointed a Citizenship Court judge. The reason it was so special was that 56 years earlier, it had been a real challenge for him, an Austrian Jew, to be allowed to enter into Canada.
He was a remarkable fellow, and I was proud to be able to play a small part in his evening of tribute.