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Students’ Tribute to the late Professor Gerald L. Gall, Q.C.

06Gerald Gall Photo

Sadly, Professor Gall passed away March 18, 2012. Much has been written about the man, aptly described as a hero; however, little has been published from the point of view of his students. Canons wanted to compile a tribute to Professor Gall that was uniquely Canons. We felt the best way to do so was to let the students write the article. The following are some of the numerous comments and stories we received from students and alumni:

“I’ll never forget how Professor Gall would open every lecture with ‘Hello everyone, it’s very nice to see you all again. Welcome to class.’ Even though there were 60 people in the room, the kindness and sincerity in his voice always made it seem like he was addressing me personally. In the stress-fest that is first-year law, Professor Gall’s grandfatherly demeanor was always comforting and reassuring. He wasn’t just trying to get through the material; he truly was concerned about his students’ feelings. We lost a great academic and an even better person.”

“I’m sad that I won’t get to speak to him again, and that future generations won’t get to hear the unique insights that set the tone for my legal education. My thoughts are with his family. May he rest in peace.”

“It must have been the first or second day of first year in September, 2010. Professor Gall could sense the nervousness among his fresh batch of Constitutional Law students. In an effort to calm our nerves, he told us that he would be our “home room teacher” for the year- to approach him at any point with questions or concerns or if we just wanted somebody to talk to. From that point forward, I knew it would be a great two and a half hours per week spent in the company of Professor Gall.”

“I worked with Professor Gall on a textbook he was writing. We had to discuss the work I was to do for him, but he only had time to talk on a Friday afternoon; but he had lots of errands to run before an event he had to attend. He tells me to meet him outside the law building, so I go outside and he calls me to get into his car. We discuss the assignment while sitting in his car. During the conversation, he can’t decide whether to bring me along for the ride during his errands or to just give me the instructions right there in front of the law building. His wife called during our call so she gave me some instructions as well. Working for him was a great experience, and he was an amazing teacher and mentor. He’ll be very missed.”

“Professor Gall’s ‘the Canadian Legal System 5th edition’ was the only text I kept from first year. I do not know why, by I loved that book. Maybe it was the Justicia statue on the cover that reminded me I had made it into law school, or the lengthy index in the final pages that conveyed his passion for the subject. I always appreciated legal academics that embraced their audience, and communicated with a clarity capable of reaching the average person. He was such a fitting person to introduce new law students to our legal system, and I am sad that future students of our school will not have this benefit.”

“Though it must be nearly impossible to get to know many people in a giant, two cohort strong first year constitutional class it was always clear that Professor Gall was interested in each of us individually. At his end of first semester party he made a very concerted effort to move about the groups of students and speak to as many people as possible. The only thing compelling him to leave a discussion with a student was his knowledge that there were dozens of others he hadn’t talked to yet. When he made his way over to the group I was with he cracked a joke, sat down next to me and then told me that I always looked sad in his classes. It was greatly touching that amidst trying to teach us all constitutional law while simultaneously entertaining us with his many stories he had somehow managed to not only notice me amongst the sea of students, but also to make an observation (accurate or not) about my mood. I always tried to have a smile on my face during second semester when I was in his class.” “Well…Constitutional Law was certainly not a favourite of mine. But Professor Gall made the immensely mundane more exciting, his anecdotes, stories, and general warmth made first-year law seem less ominous and lawyering more real. Favourite story was about the places he had to deliver a baby.”

“It’s hard to choose just one memory, most of the gems are of a “you had to be there” variety. But one thing is for sure, I laughed more in foundations than I ever have in any school environment. I had to leave on one occasion because I could not bring my laughter under control. Another class I remember staring at my hands trying to get my giggling under control but each time I felt it was safe to look up, I would catch Gall’s eye, which would twinkle and he would giggle and I’d be off again. All I know is, without even noticing, I finished foundations understanding well…the foundations of law. It was sneaky, I don’t know how it happened. It didn’t feel like work or a chore, we were all just enjoying ourselves for four months. I will always remember foundations feeling like comedic relief from 1L reality. I am lucky and honoured to have learned under Professor Gall.”

“Professor Gall always made Foundations an interesting class. In just one semester with him as a prof, I learned:
-He hosted an advice column called ‘Savvy Dad’ on his daughter’s podcast about knitting.
-He delivered two babies in one summer, one of which was in an elevator.
-He had the authority to conduct citizenship swearing in ceremonies of new Canadians.
-Articling students back in the day used to generally serve the function of walking the senior partner’s poodle.
-Some Quebec judges can say that women are like rules (i.e. meant to be violated) and keep their job on the bench.
-Answering your cell phone in class in the middle of your lecture is frickin hilarious.
But on a more serious note, I feel privileged to have had Grandpa Gall as a professor and to have known him; he was a funny and brilliant man. RIP.”

“My fondest memories of Professor Gall: the way he embraced every one of his students, the way he beamed when he spoke of his family, and the time he told me that his new eyeglasses were trendy like mine. The man had a heart of gold. Z”L”

“My experiences in Professor Gall’s class will forever help paint my memories of first year law. He had the ability to make a huge lecture hall of students feel like a small seminar class. I remember the day that he decided to go through the class list, a task that took up most of the class. With almost every individual he told a story and shared life lessons with the class. One day it somehow came up that I was Colombian. He was delighted to share with me his work on Latin American Constitutions and insisted I contacted his daughter, who lives in Bogota as the ambassador to Canada, to “help her make friends”. The next class he signalled me to go to the front of the room and handed me a piece of paper with his daughter’s name and email address. This was the charismatic and kind personality of Professor Gall.”

“One day after constitutional class (a classmate) and I went and asked Professor Gall a question about the internet bandwidth cap that was being discussed at that time last year. The next class Professor Gall gave us a political cartoon he had seen in the paper regarding the issue and had cut out and brought to class for us. Cam kept the original and I took a photo of it, cause no professor in all my years of school had ever cared enough to take the time to cut something out of the paper for me because he remembered a question I had asked him the day before.

“I will boil Professor Gall down to a list of five things. Two of which require no explanation. I’ll start with the fourth:
4) He was at Meech Lake (that’s boss).
5) From answering phone calls from his wife to speaking about his opera singing daughter, Professor Gall was very fond and proud of his family.
1) He took great care to ensure students not only enjoyed his class, but enjoyed their law school experience. Our class pizza parties were a welcome break to busy study schedules, and a great opportunity to talk with a legendary man.
2) His story time was as effective a teaching strategy as a lecture.
3) Queen’s Council and Order of Canada.
Just like Constitutional Law, Professor Gall cannot be boiled down to a simple list, but I always appreciated his attempts to make a complicated course as simple as possible for a very overwhelmed first year class. He was a special man, and he will be greatly missed.” “To further (the) point about his fondness for telling us about his family: I remember when he proudly told us that his daughter was appearing in an upcoming episode of Law and Order. When asked which series, he became very distraught that he didn’t know there was more than one series of Law and Order and worried that he might miss her appearance unless he figured out which series she was appearing on before that evening.”

“I am deeply saddened by Professor Gall’s passing, I will greatly miss running into him in the halls or popping in to see him at his office. Professors, like Gall, are few and far between. He was living history and generous to share his experiences. With every interaction I had with Prof. Gall, I always felt so special, respected, and valued.
Professor Gall taught my first year Constitutional class; this is where I first met him. Having come to Canada from the US, I was incredibly intimidated to be in a class studying a constitutional system I had no experience or familiarity with. I explained my situation to Prof. Gall after class one day, and his eyes twinkled, he shared with me that his mother was from the US and he was certain that I would do well in his class. He then invited me to attend a citizenship ceremony, which was being held at the law school where he was one of the speakers. I did attend, and was greatly touched by his speech. After the ceremony, he said that when it was my time to take the oath, as he had with another student in the past, he would like to make my oath taking experience a special occasion as well. I know that when it is my time, he will be there in spirit and in my thoughts.

I enjoyed his class because of his interesting stories and occasional phone calls from his wife (which would cause him to beam). He was a professor who made the law school experience meaningful… I feel fortunate that I was able to share time with Prof. Gall. “Grandpa” Gall will be greatly missed.”

“I remember one Foundations class last year where all the lights went out in the classroom and Professor Gall kept lecturing despite the fact none of us could see him. That memory always puts a smile on my face. I never really got the chance to know Professor Gall, but I was lucky enough to speak briefly with him and his wife at the class party last year. I was amazed at the way he could make someone feel like he genuinely cared about them, even if he only spoke to you for a few minutes. I am disappointed to know future law students won’t have the benefit of learning from such a brilliant and caring man. My condolences to his family.”

“Professor Gall told us a story of one of the questions he answered as Savvy Dad to his daughters’ knitting podcast. Someone asked him how babies were made. He replied, if you have to ask that question, you’ve been knitting too long. Thanks, Professor Gall. Each day I left your class, I left with a smile. I might have been slightly afraid of some of my professors in first year, but I always wanted to give Professor Gall a hug.”

“I had Professor Gall for Foundations in 1L. From doing the attendance to going off on random tangents, it seems like he had a story for just about everything that came up. He was a kind and caring man that did what he could to help out others, particularly his students who asked for his help. He will be missed.”

“To attempt to sum up the impact of Professor Gall in a few short lines is impossible. I loved his story in Foundations regarding judicial appointments. According to him, judicial appointments were and are so shrouded in mystery, apparently a federal justice minister called Trudeau phoned a friend of Professor Gall to ask if he wanted to be a justice. When the appointee said yes, Trudeau paused, then asked “So, do you know what we do now? Because I have no idea how we actually appoint somebody to the bench”. It was stories like this that brought the law alive for me.”

“Professor Gall was a remarkable man in every sense of the word. Not only did I have the privilege of learning constitutional law from one of Canada’s eminent legal scholars, he also gave me a lesson in humility. In my first year of law school I attended the CBA Law Conference where he received the Distinguished Service award for Legal Scholarship. My fellow UofA students and I were all surprised to find his name in the program beside such an award – not because he was an undeserving candidate, quite the contrary really, but because he never mentioned it once in class. When we later congratulated him on his achievement he became bashful and even blushed, saying: “Oh, it was nothing really.” He quickly changed the subject to inquire after our experience at the conference, as if that were the most important matter at hand. This is just one testament to the amazing character possessed by this wonderful man. It is with deepest sympathies that I write this small note as a memorial to Gerry Gall.”