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Rich  Lorne

- by Aly Boltman

For the second time in my life, I have been away from home on vacation in an idyllic place, only to receive an email that informs me a friend is "gone now."

The first time was Lorraine Brown, a valued friend and one of the smartest people I'd ever met. I was on a ferry on the west coast, surrounded by breathtaking beauty when I was harshly pulled into to the realities of the world back home, and those that would be close on their heels in the coming days.

Tonight, while having dinner with my family in Mexico for our first-ever full family foreign vacation, I saw the flash on my device's screen with just one name in the title of the email: Lorne. With a lump in my throat, I confirmed what I already knew.

Lorne Rich had died.

Both times, I had known that my friends would pass while I was on holidays. They were fleeting thoughts that came to me sometime during the habitual last minute frantic packing frenzy, but I was too rushed with the small stuff to be able to give these projections much more of my attention.
But the truth is, from the minute I knew Lorne was sick, I recognized that I had a job to do to honour him in a very specific way.

This April celebrates 15 years since my husband and I moved to Grey County. Lorne would have been one of the first people we'd met at the Beth Ezekiel Synagogue shortly after our arrival. Not knowing much about him personally or professionally, he made a dapper first impression. He was beautifully dressed and possessed a mischievous, boyish smile that never really suited the face of an adult. Lorne had charm, grace, and the speed of a croupier. You would only register that he'd said something witty after he'd already breezed by you, effortlessly on to the next moment with someone else.

It took a few years before I learned more about him, beyond his role of certifiable mensch and pillar of the business community. I stopped into his store one day, Kornblum's Men's Wear, and he beckoned me into the back room. Tucked away in a corner, a few porcelain antique cups and saucers awaited, and if memory serves, a silver-plated teapot. He shrugged his shoulders, shifting from the heel of one foot to the other, and said, "They are the most recent things to be dropped off."

"By who?", I asked.

"Strangers. Once in a while, people show up with stuff."

"People just randomly show up at your store with antiques? Why? You sell men's wear?"

"The things that get dropped off always belonged to Jews who didn't survive the Holocaust. Most of the people who bring me stuff are older. They came from Europe and had Jewish neighbours. When the future looked increasingly bleak, Jews would ask their friends or neighbours to hold on to their possessions, with the hope that they could retrieve them after the war. All the things people brought me belonged to the ones who never came back. And they didn't know what to do with them anymore. It didn't feel right to sell them, or give them to their kids. Having a recognizably Jewish name like Kornblum outside the shop helped direct them where to go. Some people also knew me. This has been going on for years."

I remember being very silent. These artifacts, while low in commercial value, suddenly held a whole other type of importance. In and among the suits, ties, the thread and pins, there was a portal to the past and this huge sense of shared responsibility.

I've never been able to forget that moment in the back room. And over the years, Lorne's taken me into the kitchen at the Synagogue to show me more of what's been brought to him. He would just shrug his shoulders now, if he could read this, and claim that he didn't do anything special to deserve this unique role of custodian to the relics of the dead. But I disagree. Whether you got to know Lorne well, or whether he was completely new to you, he had a special away of making people feel welcome and safe. It wasn't just the sign out front that brought people to his door. And now that he's gone, this unique role has gone with him. This is just one tiny aspect of a life lived, but one that is a testament to the warmth he possessed that inspired others to live up to being decent, compassionate human beings right to the end.

photo with permission of the Rich family


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