It’s not often that shock waves are sent through the Jewish community, but that is what happened mere hours before Shabbat on Dec. 15, when news broke that business and philanthropic powerhouses Barry Sherman, 75, and his wife, Honey Sherman, 70, were found dead in their north Toronto home.
Two days later, Toronto police said its homicide unit had taken over the investigation after a weekend autopsy revealed the couple died from “ligature neck compression.”
Senator Linda Frum, a close friend of the couple, summed up the emotions of many when she tweeted on Dec. 15: “Two weeks ago, it gave me immense joy to present a Senate medal to one of the kindest and most beloved members of Canada’s Jewish community. Today I am gutted by the loss of Honey and Barry Sherman. Our community is steeped in grief. I am heartbroken.”
Later, Frum told the New York Times that “there is absolutely zero debate in my mind (that) this was a double homicide. This idea that Barry would ever harm Honey – he adored her. That’s impossible. He was a gentle, good man.”
Barry Sherman founded the generic drug company Apotex.
Published reports quoted Toronto real estate developer and close friend of the Shermans, Fred Waks, saying, “Barry was involved in Big Pharmacy on a worldwide basis. His lawsuits pertained to billions of dollars, back and forth. When you are dealing with the size of that industry and the amounts we are talking about, you make enemies. And you make enemies on a global basis.”
In the aftermath of the couple’s deaths, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was “saddened” by the news: “Our condolences to their family & friends, and to everyone touched by their vision & spirit.”
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, a personal friend of the Shermans, said on Twitter that he was “beyond words right now. My dear friends Barry and Honey Sherman (were) wonderful human beings, incredible philanthropists, great leaders in health care. A very, very sad day. Barry, Honey, rest in peace.”
The Shermans were involved in virtually every large-scale communal endeavour, it seemed, lending their names and financial resources to a wide variety of projects. Within hours after Shabbat, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s website filled with more than 100 messages of tribute and condolence.
It’s estimated that they donated roughly $50 million to the organization. In Toronto, UJA Federation’s Sherman Campus is named in their honour. Honey Sherman served as the chair of both the UJA’s annual campaign and the Jewish Foundation, and was a member of UJA Federation’s board of directors, while her husband co-founded UJA’s Tomorrow Campaign.
Bruce Leboff, UJA Federation’s board chair, added: “The tragedy of Honey’s and Barry’s loss is magnified by the pride they felt, and we all shared, just a few weeks ago at the groundbreaking for the completion of the Sherman Campus. The groundbreaking and the campus itself are only possible, like so much else we have to be thankful for in our community, due to Barry’s and Honey’s leadership. Their impact will live on – a legacy of caring, selfless devotion and generosity.”
Leboff credited the couple’s “core motivation – simply put, they cared about their community and wanted to improve the lives of those less fortunate and build communal strength for our future generations.”
Leboff said the flags at the Sherman campus will be lowered to half mast until the shloshim period of mourning is complete.
Honey Sherman was born in a displaced persons camp to Holocaust survivors. The family was brought to Canada by Jewish Immigrant Aid Services shortly after the Second World War. She chaired Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre from 2011 to 2013.
At Baycrest Health Sciences, the Shermans helped create the Apotex Centre Jewish Home for the Aged, “envisioning a facility unmatched in its service and excellence,” a statement from Baycrest noted. “They also recognized that research, education and innovation are the keys to improving the journey of aging for everyone.”
Barry Sherman served as a member of the Baycrest Centre’s board of directors and as an honorary member of the foundation’s board. Honey Sherman, who was known for her no-nonsense approach to any task, participated in the organization’s Women’s Auxiliary, leading many fundraising events, and served as a member of the campaign cabinet and both the Baycrest Centre and Baycrest Foundation’s boards of directors.
“The Shermans’ exceptional kindness and generosity helped add life to years for the many people touched by the impact of their contributions,” Baycrest stated.
Honey Sherman also served on the boards of the York University Foundation, Mount Sinai Hospital’s Women’s Auxiliary, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC), where the couple was among the top benefactors. Most recently, she delivered closing remarks at the FSWC’s State of the Union dinner.
“There are no words for the grief we all feel by this incredible tragedy,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo. “Honey and Barry were unparalleled leaders in the Toronto Jewish and wider community. They were stalwarts of support and vocal advocates for our mission. They were passionate supporters of Israel and major donors to the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Their loss and friendship on a personal level is incalculable.”
The Jewish National Fund of Toronto also mourned the Shermans, who were strong supporters of JNF. “Honey and Barry are the ultimate examples of community leaders,” stated Jeff Springer, JNF Toronto’s executive director. “Not only did they lead with their generosity, but they led with their boundless energy and commitment to those less fortunate. This includes their love of Israel, as expressed by their many visits and philanthropic investments in the country.”
Honey and Barry are the ultimate examples of community leaders.
– Jeff Springer
Darren Slavens, president of JNF Toronto, added, “Our sense of grief is immeasurable.”
In 2011, Honey chaired the JNF’s Negev Dinner honouring former Ontario Conservative leader and current Toronto Mayor John Tory.
At the University of Toronto, the couple, both alumni, were “incredibly generous supporters of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy,” said a statement from U of T president Meric Gertler.
Together with the Apotex Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, the Shermans gave more than $12 million to pharmacy education and research. Barry Sherman was also active in the university’s Entrepreneurship Leadership Council.
“Clearly, few individuals have done more to advance the health and wellbeing of Canadians than Barry and Honey Sherman,” Gertler added.
Barry Sherman certainly had big things in his sights, but never lost view of the need to help individuals. When Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, held his son’s bar mitzvah in Havana in 2006, he asked Sherman to donate medical supplies to help the Cuban People.
Sherman and Apotex came through with about 100 pounds of medicine, inhalers and other supplies, all carried by Farber’s guests from Canada.
“We knew the Cuban community was in desperate need of pharmaceuticals,” Farber recalled. “We reached out to Barry Sherman who donated the much-needed supplies. As a result of Barry’s generosity, the small Cuban Jewish community synagogue ran the best-stocked pharmacy on the island.”
The Apotex Foundation has donated more than $50 million worth of medicine over the last 10 years. Critical medicines have been shipped to virtually every disaster zone around the globe.
Few individuals have done more to advance the health and wellbeing of Canadians than Barry and Honey Sherman.
– University of Toronto president Meric Gertler
“Our specific priority at Apotex is to work collaboratively with members of the pharmacy profession and to provide financial support for a wide variety of professional programs and research initiatives on both national and regional levels,” Barry Sherman stated on his company’s website. “Ultimately, these activities will benefit not only the patient but also the pharmacist in the hospital, community or university environments.”
Among the major beneficiaries of his company’s foundation has been the United Way. “We are proud to be recognized as the No. 1 pharmaceutical company in Canada for total corporate donations, being one of the few companies in the country to raise over $1 million,” he wrote on the Apotex website.
“Whenever there was a financial challenge, the Shermans would be there to solve it, backstop a situation and provide support,” wrote community volunteer and philanthropist Michael Diamond on the UJA’s website.
“Every community has one or more families who make an incredible difference, who are always there, not just when things are going well, but when the chips are down. The Shermans are that family in our community.”
Barry Sherman stepped down as chief executive of Apotex in 2012, but remained as the company’s executive chairman.
He was featured in The CJN’s Canada 150 issue, as one of this country’s most influential Jews.
Born in Toronto in 1942 to Herb and Sara Sherman, he was the only son of a zipper manufacturer who died when he was young. Barry had won a national physics contest while still at Forest Hill Collegiate high school and graduated with top marks in the province. He spent a summer interning with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
He was only 16 when he enrolled in the University of Toronto’s engineering science program. He graduated with the highest honours in his class, winning the Governor General’s Award.
From Toronto, he went on to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study aeronautics on a scholarship. He became an expert on satellites and the complex mathematics that guide them. He took out a patent on the system he invented to control satellites in orbit.
Though he was by then a bona fide rocket scientist, Sherman returned to Toronto to work for his uncle, Louis Lloyd Winter, at his company, Empire Laboratories, the largest wholly owned Canadian pharmaceutical company at that time. By the 1960s, Winter had built a $1-million business by making cheaper versions of Aspirin and Valium, among other things.
Sherman founded Apotex in 1974. Today, it’s the world’s seventh-largest maker of generic pharmaceuticals, with 11,000 employees worldwide, including 6,000 in Canada, and annual sales of $2 billion in more than 45 countries.
Sherman wrote an unpublished memoir called A Legacy of Thoughts.
The Shermans are survived by their children Jonathon, Lauren, Alexandra and Kaelen