In the courtroom, Justice Frank Cole made the lawyers work. And, in the hallway, he made them laugh.
Joined by about 100 people including family, friends, lawyers, judges and Chief Justice of British Columbia Robert Bauman, Cole celebrated his retirement from the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vernon Law Courts courtroom 301 Friday, June 29.
Part celebrity roast and part retirement party, retired Justice Ken Arkell, Justice Gary Weatherill, Chief Justice Bauman and longtime friend and lawyer Dirk Sigalet got their jabs in as Cole took the hot seat.
“When I heard that Frank would be celebrating, I knew he was too old to celebrate,” jested Arkell, who added he is certain that it’s the currently practicing lawyers who will be celebrating Cole’s retirement.
“Had I known he (Arkell) was going to give us a history lesson, we should have started this yesterday,” Cole retaliated in his closing words.
Cole, born in what is now Cambridge Ontario, was forced to retire due to it being his 75th birthday — a fact the speakers made certain to emphasize.
But Cole, always the practical joker, took their jests in stride.
“Neil Davidson always said, ‘You take your work seriously, not yourself seriously.’ I always liked that,” Cole said, recounting his former boss’ words.
While Cole spent the last two decades practicing in Vancouver, he would often take any and all opportunities to sit in Vernon courts, which is where he got his start as a lawyer with Davidson and Company, now known as Davidson Pringle LLP, in 1971.
Masked under the jokes, however, was praise for the retiring Justice who used to serve on the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society board, was once president of the Vernon Bar and was a former member of both Silver Star Rotary and the Vernon School Board.
“Frank, in his career, has given voice to those who are voiceless and those in need,” Chief Justice Bauman said at the start of the hour-long retirement ceremony that was followed by a celebration at Nixon Wenger LLP.
“He was and still is one of the good guys,” Weatherill added in his speech.
Cole, who was once yelled at by a judge for turning a page too loudly during his lawyer years, recounted tales of his long career in front of family and friends.
One such story and family that Cole still recalls stems from a child custody matter before the courts.
“The smile on her (the mother) face is still etched in my mind,” Cole said, recalling the time he gave his decision on the matter. “I know I made her life much better.”
He shared only two, but Cole heard many stories in his time as Justice, including his final day June 29 when he sat in Supreme Court in Vernon for one last case.
For Cole, those stories are what added flavour to his career.
“It is the stories people tell about their lives that is most interesting. Some people describe judging as as opening a new book every day because things change constantly. The stories people tell are fascinating,” Cole said.
“It is fair to say that their stories are a never ending stream of stories, day after day, humanity with all its colour played before me a catalogue of hope, dreams, deceptions and disappointments, men and women of all races and backgrounds, sad, happy, angry, indifferent.
“I still have many memories of these people and their stories.”