Edward R. Roberts
Eulogy, December 22, 2004
Leslie has asked me, and I am so greatly honoured, to deliver the Eulogy as part of this
comforting memorial service. Although with heavy hearts, we are here to give thanks for
having known such a special man. Whether you called him Dad, Granddad, Ed, Mr.
Roberts, Fast Eddie or Freddy Quickfinger, he left an indelible impression on all he met,
as this packed church attests.
Ed’s daughter Leslie, with her husband Mike and sons Cam and Robin and Ed’s “black
Lady” Coco are with us today. His sons Craig – in the U.S. – and Brent – in Australia –
unfortunately cannot attend but will get together with Leslie in Oregon to hold a family
memorial. Today we pay tribute to Ed, the community man and wonderful Calgarian.
Ed was born in Calgary – though he used to say that he didn’t recall much about the
event. He played cricket and baseball, attended Western Canada High School and was
both a choirboy in the Anglican Church and a water boy for the Calgary Broncs. He
worked for a while as a clerk at the Gas Company and then joined the RCAF when he
was old enough, becoming a Flying Officer. He was such a proficient pilot that he
became an instructor. In later years he was much involved at the Officer’s Mess where
he became close friends of another great pilot – Milt Harradence.
After the war, he joined Peat Marwick to study for and become a CA. About the same
time he was courting a young lady named Kaye Luke, a passenger agent with
TransCanada Airlines. Ed delighted in telling about the rule at TCA that the female
employees couldn’t work there if they were married! This led to a long engagement until
he had enough earning power to support her, with marriage in 1951.
He worked for a few years with Riley’s Reproductions from which Mac Jones of the
Nolan Chambers law firm recruited him. Once with the firm he met various lawyers who
were to become life long friends, including Herb Laycraft, Bert Wyman, Don Sabey,
Gordon Brown, Jack Major, Joe Stratton and Walter O’Donoghue.
He was one of Western Canada’s first Law Office Managers and in 1986 he received a
special distinction when he was designated a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered
Accountants, in recognition of his work as a pioneer in Law Office Management. Gordon
Brown points out that Ed’s functions as Chief Accountant, Office Manager, Financial
Officer, Administrative Head and Manager of Human Resources are now nicely handled
by a staff of 67.
Throughout his busy professional career Ed was also an extraordinary contributor to the
life of Calgary, first through the Kinsmen Club of which he became President, then as a
Director of the Calgary Stampede and Chairman of the Grandstand Committee. His
mentor and close friend was Stew Barker. He always had a zest for the world of show
business, perhaps developed when he participated in the infamous 1948 Grey Cup train which went from the Cow town to the Hog town and marked the start of the true national
festival that the Grey Cup became.
But his crowning achievement and greatest event came when he chaired the
Ceremonies Committee for the 1988 Winter Olympics. He recruited outstanding
professionals Paddy Sampson and Hugh Dunne and loved working with them, as much
as they did with him. The very close personal friendship he maintained with both these
fellows is proof of that.
Through all these activities, Ed’s exquisite sense of humour and the manner and style in
which he carried out his varied activities, marked him apart. In speaking to so many of
his old pals this past week, the comments have centered on his humour, his decency,
his people skills and his good will. With that ever present twinkle in his eye, you always
felt he was on the verge of a quip or one of his well thought out queries: “Now Hugh, is it
true that since you worked in Premier Klein’s office, the credit for keeping Ralph on the
straight and narrow should go to you?”. His mouth would quiver in anticipation of your
response, always ready for a chuckle or a roar of laughter.
It is small wonder that Artie Johnson of “Laugh-in” became a great pal of Ed’s. He
undoubtedly recognized a kindred comedic spirit, a person who could fashion a fine tale
or a clever quip. For example:
At the 1988 Opening Ceremonies, an Olympic official was slated to swear in the Judges.
Before a packed stadium and a television audience of millions, she stumbled: “Is it on?”.
Is the mike live?” Ed told Gordon Coates later: “I just want you to know – I was her
Of course Ed Roberts was a merry prankster. His most famous stunt was the one
organized for a convention of Chartered Accountants in 1969. A special train took over
1,000 conventioneers from Banff to Calgary in antique railway cars, including baggage
cars used as Saloons. There were special passengers such as a “Minister”
administering retread marriages, and a group of “Hutterites” clambering aboard and
making their way through the crowd selling dead chickens and rotten vegetables.
At Morley Flats passengers were stunned to see several boxcars aflame on a siding.
The train stopped, 100 Indian braves on horseback attacked and carried off a half dozen
of the women. It became known as the “Great Train Ride” and the subject of a T.V.
documentary. In the accounting world, it also became known as: “The day the
accountants had fun”.
For the legal profession also he was a real splash of colour on an otherwise drab
landscape. He taught student Jack Major, a future Supreme Court Judge, how to play
“Seven Toed Pete” – a poker game – , in the basement filing room.
When Herb Laycraft was appointed as a trial judge, he received the following letter: “We
retain unforgettable memories of your various contributions, not the least being your
agility with Miss Sawyers, particularly in the two-step at the Christmas party. So that you
may exploit your athletic propensities, the firm encloses this equipment”.
The gift was a tennis package which included two left shoes and a racket short a few
strings. In the Bentall Building one day, when an important closing was taking place in the
Boardroom, the fire alarm went off for a practice drill. Startled icons of the business
world were taken aback, when the Boardroom door opened suddenly and Roberts
rushed through – in a Fireman’s helmet, carrying a watering can.
In 1986 Bill Britton invited Ed Roberts along on a trip with the Denver Broncos to
London, England for an NFL exhibition game. With the complicity of the Denver’s Head
Coach Dan Reeves, they cooked up a scheme that Ed would be introduced as a star
quarter back of yesteryear from the CFL. Roberts played the role perfectly on the flight to
London and had the players well and truly sucked in. The prank however took a
momentary nasty turn when Bill phoned him early on the morning of the game to say Ed
should get down to the stadium immediately to suit up, as the boys wanted to put him in
for a play or two since he was such a pro.
For years in the office Ed single-handedly wrote and published a publication he called
“The Trombone”. In a style reminiscent of the Calgary Eye Opener, he would seize upon
trivial events (typically fabricated) to amuse and delight his dull readership. It covered
sports events like this one:
“Bennett Jones personnel will be disappointed to learn the firm entry in the Fifth Annual
Sheep River Road Race did not fare well. Dale Shurvell and Walter O’Donoghue started
well and were running easily but disaster struck at the three-kilometer mark when the
latch string of O’Donoghue’s ill-fitting bloomers broke, dropping them suddenly to his
ankles and causing a nasty spill, which ended his run. Shurvell lost his way in a fog
patch, and ended up in the Priddis cemetery”.
After a letter to the Calgary Herald wondering if the President of the Calgary Stampeder
Football Club knew the difference between a volleyball and a football, the following
interview appeared in the Trombone:
“Tremblechin: You have seen the allegation Mr. Britton and I want this interview to be, in
the tradition of the Trombone, brutally frank, so I ask you straight out – no beating
around the bush – no waffling – do they – or if I may – do you know the difference
between a volleyball and a football?
Britton: “That’s a good question. It’s a fair question. It’s a question that should be asked.
The people are entitled to know and I am sure that I speak for the President, my fellow
directors, the players, the trainer and the equipment manager when I say I appreciate
the opportunity of responding.
Tremblechin: “What’s the answer?”
Britton: “What’s the question?”
Tremblechin: “Do you know the difference between a volleyball and a football?”
Britton: “Do you?”
Tremblechin: “I’m not a director”
Britton: “You said it”
Tremblechin: “You don’t know the difference?”
Britton: “I do”
Tremblechin: “You don’t”
Britton: “I do”
Tremblechin: “What is it?”
Britton: “It’s plastics”.
He covered social events under the by-line Gladys Hoothpistle: “Douglas Alan Ast, a prominent Calgary solicitor, is pictured below re-arranging the
entrance to his guest house following culmination of social activities which occurred
during a family reunion early in September. Said Mr. Ast: “My wife Barb (nee Lawson)
and I decided to shake our Family trees and have a grand reunion. Over 80 attended
and both sides of our family were about evenly distributed. What I mean is, about half
were Lawsons and the others, of course, were half-Ast”.
Roberts mastered a speaking style in the manner of Bob Hope. Indeed he even looked a
bit like Bob Hope and could get a laugh just by turning the side of his mouth down and
raising his eyebrows. His humour was clever, never nasty. In reviewing the military
career of his friend Gordon Peterson he addressed the Rotary Club:
“There is nothing to say about Gordon Peterson. I have been given four minutes but his
contribution could be summed up in four seconds – or two words: best forgotten”.
He was a role model for us all as he went through the various setbacks that life brings.
He lost his beloved Kaye in 1998 but remained philosophical, and unfailingly positive. He
would joke about the things that happened to him, even his significant bout with prostate
cancer. Now he has boarded his last train.
“Times up Martland” I hear a distinctive voice saying. Well thank you Ed Roberts for an
exemplary life, for the strength and warmth of your friendship and for making us laugh.
—John Martland, partner with Bennett Jones LLP, Calgary, Alberta