Wednesday, May 10, 2017
2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner

Photos by Oliver Salathiel

More than 100 alumni, guests and friends joined the Faculty of Law on April 26 to celebrate, laud and fete the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients – Melissa Kennedy, Class of 1987 and Herb Solway, Class of 1955, “each intrepid leaders in their respective fields and communities, and outstanding members of our many extraordinary and public-spirited alumni community,” said Dean Ed Iacobucci. 

The occasion was especially poignant as the dean pointed out it was the first of many alumni award events to be held in the remarkable Jackman Law Building. After a cocktail reception in spectacular Torys Hall, the program and dinner occurred in the spacious and naturally lit Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP Atrium.

The evening also recognized Michelle Henry, Class of 2002, and Claire Hunter, Class of 2003, with the Ann Wilson and Robert Prichard Award for Community and Professional Service.

“These alumnae are already blazing a trail early in their careers, as they work diligently to build them, Michelle as a partner at BLG, pillar of diversity, mentorship and probono causes; and Claire, litigation partner at Vancouver-based Hunter Litigation Chambers, also an exceptional probono advocate and expert on international child abduction,” said Iacobucci.

Herb Solway, Melissa Kennedy, and Dean Edward Iacobucci
Herb Solway, Melissa Kennedy, and Dean Edward Iacobucci

Melissa Kennedy, a securities and litigation superstar and executive vice-president, chief legal officer and public affairs at Sun Life Financial, is “a long-time champion of diversity in the legal landscape and a giant in the growing practice area of in-house counsel…an architect for a more diverse and inclusive legal landscape, and a mentor extraordinaire to so many.”

She has provided outstanding leadership in business ethics, strong governance and strategic guidance to some of Canada’s largest institutions and companies: Sun Life, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, CIBC and the Ontario Securities Commission. She was named General Counsel of the Year at the Canadian General Counsel Awards in 2012, which honours the top in-house lawyers in the country, for her legal prowess on several enormous transactions at Teachers, such as the sale of the pension fund’s 80% stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for $1.32-billion to BCE Inc. and Rogers Communication Inc.

Like many of our public-spirited alumni, Kennedy is heavily involved in mentoring, lending her career guidance to many, and helping to grow an in-house talent pipeline that is remarkably impressive. She was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network in 2016, and in 2013 she received the Zenith Award as one of Canada’s leading female lawyers. She’s been named a Women of Influence Canadian Diversity Champion. A long-time U of T volunteer, she has received the University’s highest honour for its most dedicated volunteers, the Arbor Award. An enthusiastic advocate for diversity, she co-founded Legal Leaders of Diversity, where she is a member of the steering committee, and actively supports projects  to open access to opportunities for all.

The dean shared Melissa’s tremendous achievements inside and outside major boardrooms, and also her personal story. For many years, Kennedy built her career and community connections while a widowed parent of, and sole provider for, two young boys – a tragic and unforeseen situation that occurred right before she was to start her CLO position at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. “I make this point to underline ever more Melissa’s outstanding accomplishments as a parent, alumna, lawyer, leader, mentor, change agent and friend.”

Next Dean Ed Iacobucci lauded the Class of 1955, a truly all-star vintage year that includes Distinguished Alumnus Awardee, Herb Solway.

Said Iacobucci: “He was part of the transformative era of what we call the modern-day law school, when Dean Cesar Wright experimented with, and achieved, astonishing success with a new model, a scholarly and Socratic one, for legal education. Herb and his formidable classmates were among the cream of the crop Cesar Wright recruited, taught, graduated then launched into the legal and business worlds, and beyond, to great success. This was not a time the legal profession welcomed Jewish lawyers on Bay Street, but they were welcomed here at the Faculty of Law.”

Blue Jays fans can thank the indomitable Herb Solway, who has been been involved with the Major League Baseball team since its beginnings, having been one of the legal titans who brought the club to our fair city,  and later serving as chair of the Club. Herb is one of the founders of Goodmans LLP, and grew the firm as chair, hiring the best and the brightest talents. He was also notably one of the very early advocates for mental health, back in the days when hardly any one dared to speak of the issue.

The importance of diversity in the profession was a key theme throughout the night among all the award recipients. Dean Iacobucci praised Solway as a “hero of diversity who forged a path to support and open doors of opportunity and success for future Jewish lawyers. A founding member of Goodmans LLP, Herb's leadership of the firm played a key role in this success.”

For many, Herb is the ‘DNA’ of Goodmans. He is lauded for playing an invaluable role in strategically building up the firm, including serving as chair from 1982 to 1994 and hiring among the most talented law students for more than 50 years.

“He is a mentor to many, an affable and humourous raconteur, a most generous philanthropist, and astute business executive,” said Iacobucci.

His expertise was called upon by many of Canada’s largest corporations, including directorships with Sun Media (as a founding director), John Labatt Ltd., Union Enterprises Ltd, and Gluskin Sheff.

“As a community, we are all grateful for Herb’s very early leadership in making mental health and wellness an open and urgent priority,” explained Dean Iacobucci. “He served as a founding director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and was a director with its precursor, The Clarke Foundation, for more than 20 year, tackling issues when society turned the other way.”

A true civic and legal leader, Herb is a supporter of the arts, as a director for the Tarragon Theatre. 

The 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients were celebrated with standing ovations for their tremendous achievements.

Paul Morrison, now past president of the Law Alumni Association, said in his introduction to the Wilson Prichard awardees: “I am so proud to count these amazing lawyers among our alumni, tackling with gusto not only their careers, but also their community spirit to truly make an impact in the world around them.”

Dean Edward Iacobucci, Michelle Henry, Claire Hunter
Dean Edward Iacobucci, Michelle Henry, and Claire Hunter

Morrison highlighted the tremendous accomplishments of the Wilson Prichard recipients: Michelle Henry is busy partner in the labour and employment group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, an exceptional leader on diversity issues, a member of the Student Recruitment Committee, a mentor and principal to summer and articling students, and also serves on BLG’s Pro Bono Committee. In the greater community, Michelle has shown great leadership devoted to equity-seeking groups, co-founding the Black Business Law Clinic, volunteering and mentoring with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, and as an executive member of the OBA’s Education Law Section.  She sits on the board of LOFT Community Services, which assists approximately 4500 clients living with mental health, addictions and physical health challenges, and on the board of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, which supports 26 diverse community agencies. She’s also an active and remarkable U of T alumna, volunteering for the St. Michael’s University Class of 1988, the Faculty of Law’s Class of 2002 Reunion, and the law school’s much-loved annual See Yourself Here event, which encourages high school students from equity-seeking communities to pursue careers in law.

Based in Vancouver, Claire Hunter is a partner at Hunter Litigation Chambers, where she has been counsel in a number of high-profile civil cases in BC, and appears regularly before the trial and appeal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada. She began her legal career with a clerkship under the Hon. Justice Frank Iacobucci at the SCC, then practiced litigation for six years at Sullivan & Cromwell, in New York, where her practice focused on complex commercial matters, international sanctions, and white collar crime, including conducting internal investigations. While in New York, Claire was a resident ‘ambassador’ for [D1] the Faculty of Law, and she visited Toronto frequently to recruit fellow alumni to the Big Apple. 

Claire has been passionately devoted to probono legal services, at local, national and international spheres. Morrison recalled an example of Hunter’s dedication: after working a full day on a Sullivan & Cromwell file in the UK, Claire took a red-eye flight to New York to meet a probono client awaiting an asylum hearing in a detention centre. After representing him, she flew back to London on the red-eye that same night. Morrision spoke of her unique expertise with international child abduction cases, where she often represents mothers who have fled with their children to protect them from abuse.

She was a Canadian delegate to the 2011 ProBono Conference in Chile, serves as Chair of the BC Access Probono organization, was appointed one of the few non-benchers to the Law Society of BC’s Access to Legal Services Advisory Committee, and has been on numerous Canadian Bar Association probono committees.  She has been recognized with many awards for her energetic and outstanding probono and legal work, by Benchmark Canada, Sullivan & Cromwell, the New York Bar Association, and the Canadian Bar Association.

All four award recipients received warm applause from the alumni and guests, and by the end of the night, the Goodmans Café was open to serve its coffee and close out the enjoyable evening.