HALIFAX — Halifax philanthropist, volunteer, fundraiser and all-round go-getter Ruth Goldbloom was remembered as a woman who refused to say no, refused to give up and went the extra mile to see a project completed.
Goldbloom died August 29 at age 88 after a short battle with cancer. It was the only battle she ever lost.
At a funeral service attended by dignitaries and everyday folk, more than 1,500 people heard her three children eulogize a mother they loved and from whom they learned many life lessons, and a community worker who diligently and unselfishly made life better for thousands of people.
A member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, Goldbloom’s greatest legacy was the development of a dingy warehouse on the Halifax waterfront into a Canadian museum, Pier 21, through which one million new Canadians arrived between 1923 and 1971.
Starting in 1990, when she began a campaign to refurbish the site, Goldbloom raised $4.5 million by banging on boardroom doors across Canada until the people in charge donated money. Her Rolodex included company and university presidents, the highest-ranking politicians of every stripe, and people from all walks of life.
Goldbloom listed among her friends, artists, teachers, nurses, doctors, humanitarian aid workers, social activists, tailors, grocers, clergy, war veterans and new Canadians.
“She reminded us as citizens that we are all responsible for one another,” said Rabbi Ari Isenberg, spiritual leader of Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Halifax, where Ruth and her husband, Richard, former head of pediatrics at Halifax’s IWK Health Centre (Children’s Hospital), were members for more than 40 years.
“We were all viewed through the same lens, despite, and maybe because of, our differences.”
When reflecting on his own father’s arrival through Pier 21 decades before, Rabbi Isenberg said, Pier 21 was the “House that Ruth built. It was Ruth’s fourth child, eighth grandchild and second husband.”
Ruth’s son, Alan Goldbloom, said his mother, who remained youthful and enthusiastic about life until her passing, always said, “My goal is to die young, as late as possible.”
He talked about his parent’s marriage of 66 years. “My parents set an example for me. When I became a father, I hoped I would be as good a parent as they were.”
Daughter Barbara reflected how, in their home, the only voices ever raised were in laughter.
“They never yelled at us or at one another,” she said. “We had a life of superlatives. Everything was always the best, the greatest. Things were always ‘perfect,’ according to my mother. I thought I was her only daughter, but, in the past few months, as she was nearing her end, people called and I heard so many say she was like a mother to them.”
David Goldbloom drew a laugh when he recalled how his mother, always outspoken and with an opinion, and a major Liberal party supporter, wondered, “How can Canadian Jews vote Conservative?”
Stephen Goldbloom, one of seven grandchildren, spoke on behalf of all of them. “We felt we won the grandparent lottery when, as we’d walk down the street with her. She was always stopped and praised by strangers. She was always the eternal optimist.”
Born Ruth Miriam Schwartz in 1923 in New Waterford, N.S., to immigrant parents from Russia, Goldbloom met future husband Richard when she studied at McGill University. They moved to Halifax from Montreal in 1967. She became involved in Jewish and community causes receiving seven honorary doctorates and countless awards from Jewish and community organizations. She was the first female chair of Halifax United Way, and was the first Jewish chair of the board of Mount St. Vincent University, a Catholic women’s university at the time.
Before he recited the Jewish memorial prayer, Rabbi Isenberg told the audience, “When I saw Ruth for the last time a couple of weeks ago, I asked, ‘What would you like me to pray for, for you?’
“Ruth told me, ‘I have everything I could want and am so grateful for it. Pray for the success of my projects, equity in the world and fulfilment for my family.’”