There are things from the past that Thomas Caldwell remembers as if they happened yesterday. Like the time back in Grade 2 that he spotted the Jewish kid in the school, Howard Rosen, sitting on a fence in the schoolyard and he decided to pop him one, just because.
Caldwell, today a successful businessman and a member of the Order of Canada, couldn’t get over that schoolyard incident even after the passage of decades. And no wonder. On page 118 of his book, The “Success” Dictionary, he defines the word “past” with the following admonition: “Don’t drag past hurts around with you like Jacob Marley’s chains. Move forward from today, unburdened.”
For 65 years, Caldwell had been dragging around that event from his past that most people would have long forgotten, but from which he has wanted to unburden himself. Back in Grade 2, the principal at Runnymede Public School called him into his office to give an account of what happened, and as a cheeky seven-year-old, his response was that his hand slipped.
Caldwell doesn’t remember whether there were any further repercussions, but the incident bothered him over the years – like dragging around Jacob Marley’s chains – and last week, after consulting with Jewish friends, he placed a classified ad in The CJN to try and make amends.
The ad read: “To Howard Rosen, sorry I punched you at Runnymede Public School in the early 1950’s. Tom Caldwell.”
The ad hit social media and quickly went viral, but Rosen learned about it through “the Jewish telegraph,” the informal low-tech communications network in the Jewish community where one person simply tells another.
“My niece was browsing through The CJN that Friday and saw [the ad],” he said. “Word got around” and his family wanted to know, “Are you that Howard Rosen?” he said.
Since then Rosen and Caldwell have spoken several times on the telephone, and this week they met face to face.
“I knew he wanted to get in touch with me,” Rosen said. “I thought it was good to talk to him.”
“I’m glad I did it. It was like unfinished business,” said Caldwell.
Today Caldwell serves as chair of Caldwell Financial Ltd. and of Caldwell Investment Management Ltd., a diversified investment company. A past governor of the Toronto Stock Exchange, he was also named to the Order of Canada for his philanthropic endeavours.
Caldwell also counts Jews among his business associates, charitable partners and friends. He refers to Sol Yunger as his mentor and still gets choked up recounting the advice the older investment advisor gave him during the 1987 market crash.
“He treated me like a son,” Caldwell recalls.
One of his charitable works was joining with several Jewish partners in funding Neshama Playground in Forest Hill’s Oriole Park that is fully accessible.
Nevertheless, the incident from his youth stayed with him over the years. “I believe [Rosen’s] name stuck in my mind because I felt badly about it at the time,” he said.
Even in his business, Caldwell stresses acknowledging mistakes and moving on. “I tell portfolio managers, there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes. But clean it up. Don’t remain wrong. Move on. It’s the same in life.”
Caldwell admits there were other things he did in his youth that he now regrets. As a kid, he used to take money from a local Catholic church and spend it on movies and treats. As in the Rosen incident, his conscience bothered him about it and a few years ago, he decided to make amends. He calculated how much he had taken and added compound interest at 10 per cent. The sum amounted to thousands of dollars, but Caldwell cut a cheque and made a donation to the church.
Caldwell believes he was greatly influenced by his “Irish uncles” who helped raise him after his father died when he was 12. He recalls an incident one summer when one of his uncles realized he had been given too much change at a restaurant, turned the car around and drove back to return the overpayment.
Righting the wrong that occurred at Runnymede had been on his mind for years. He can’t really recall why he hit Rosen. “I didn’t grow up in an anti-Semitic world, but kids pick up stuff, like dust in the air.
“I didn’t think I was anti-Semitic,” he said, though he acknowledged there was anti-Jewish sentiment in the community at the time and that was likely the underlying reason for the punch.
“That was the thing that troubled me. It was inside my head. I know I punched him because he was Jewish,” Caldwell said. “I was thinking of the hurt it caused him and his parents.”
But today, Rosen barely remembers the incident. “It’s really hazy,” he said. “It was one day in my life. Nothing out of the ordinary. There was a certain level of persecution in those days.”
In fact, Rosen said, the incident with Caldwell takes a back seat to others involving an older boy at Runnymede, who tormented him by threatening to hurt him and chasing him around the school yard.
In that context, the Caldwell incident was, for him, forgettable. “I don’t think I was as shocked by being hit. It was not out of the ordinary. There were people who would have liked to hit me every day.”
Rosen recalls that the move to the west end neighbourhood near Runnymede PS was controversial – his mother, brother and sister weren’t happy about it. But his father, who was a successful grocer, owning a store at Bay and Davenport, wanted a nicer home. They moved into the west end from their old “humble area” around Bathurst and Harbord.
After the move, the family felt “isolated” in that new neighbourhood and soon moved out, Rosen recalled.
His difficult experiences at Runnymede, along with the fact he was a hyper active kid played a role in his career choice as a teacher, he said.
“I wanted to get into a profession where I could influence people’s lives,” he said.
Now retired, he worked as a teacher for 37 years, including in inner city schools, with a focus on special education.
Not surprisingly, Rosen found the onslaught of attention brought on by the ad as coming out of the blue. But after a few pleasant chats with Caldwell, talking about their school days, he’s open to developing the new relationship. As it happens, they live fairly close to each other.
“I look forward to meeting Tom,” Rosen said before they met. “I love to explore.”