In Memoriam: Neil McKelvey, IBA President 1979-1980
As President of the Canadian Bar Association, I am pleased to share the many tributes of the Canadian legal profession and particularly the 37,000 members of our Association. Throughout a career that spanned more than 60 years, Neil McKelvey made a unique and exceptional contribution both to the legal profession and to his country. He was well-known across Canada, respected both for his sharp mind and his straight talk.
We were privileged to have a man of his calibre serve as our National President in 1973–74. In his memoir, Neil discussed how rewarding his time as President was. He wrote: ‘It expanded my horizons beyond New Brunswick to encompass all of Canada. Joan and I made friends from east to west and from south to north, and made us realize what an expansive and wonderful country we live in.’
Neil would go on to be elected the first Canadian lawyer to become President of the International Bar Association. One subsequent IBA President, Kumar Shankardass, describes Mckelvey as a distinguished President and most helpful in relation to the New Delhi conference.
Neil believed that lawyers must constantly strive to fulfil their responsibilities to society and to ensure that those without means could access the legal system. The CBA remembers Neil with great fondness for his single-minded dedication to improving the justice system and the practice of law in Canada.
His leadership of the CBA Committee on the Appointment of Judges resulted in an advisory committee process that today works successfully both federally and provincially.
Neil was a strong believer in the value of the CBA, championing membership for all New Brunswick lawyers. He counselled many a young associate who joined his firm to get involved. And he would tell them: ‘If you are going to get involved, be fully committed!’
And thankfully for us, he lived by those words. He brought his spirit, vision and leadership to our Association, vigorously defending the independence of the legal profession, and holding steadfast to the view that it must be in a position to resist outside pressures. He lived by those beliefs as well, and to the last.
Neil lived a rich life, full of purpose, and to the very end fully committed to justice. It’s an impressive legacy. To Joan and family, the Canadian Bar Association, together with the legal profession in Canada, extends our sincerest condolences. Neil will always hold a special spot in our hearts and will be remembered by all who had the special privilege of knowing him.
Trinda L Ernst, QC
President, Canadian Bar Association