Thomas Bjarnason

Obituary of Thomas Bjarnason




January 3, 1943 – November 6, 2018


Tom Bjarnason has died.  Tom lived his contented last days at Kensington Hospice in Toronto, all the while attending to the wellbeing of his chosen family.  He left this world surrounded by the people and things that he loved: some of his collected artworks, his friends, his pup Eddie, and his partner of 17 years, Woody Wells.  During his time at Kensington, Tom brought together, as one community, so many different groups of friends.  They were drawn from the worlds of law, museums, artists, arts-supporters, foundations, and food - a diversity that attests to the breadth of Tom's personality, and to the many people he touched in his 75 years.


Tom began life in northern Ontario.  He was the sole child of Mabel Brownlee of Port Arthur and Otto Bjarnason of Winnipeg.  He was born on January 3, 1943 in Geraldton, near where his father was a mining engineer.  Life soon took the family to Peterborough, which Tom always thought of as his home town.  He received his undergraduate education at the University of Toronto's Trinity College before going on to the Faculty of Law, from which he graduated in the class of 1968.  After his articles at McCarthy and McCarthy, as the firm was then known, he remained at McCarthy Tétrault in the commercial real estate section his entire working life, retiring from the practice of law in 2008. Remarkably, Tom worked with one administrative assistant, Ms. Emily Lee, for forty years.  Emily remained a good friend until the end.  Many of Tom's closest friendships were formed in those four decades of his first professional life.  Tom was the honorary uncle to the children of many of those friends, relationships that transformed into adult friendships in their own right.


While at McCarthy's, Tom found his true passion and a sustaining force in his life: contemporary art.  Art, knowledge about art, and art collecting became Tom's second professional career, and one from which he derived immense joy.  Through his early role on the art advisory committee of McCarthy's, and the mentorship of Ms. Jeanne Parkin, the committee's consultant, Tom developed a deep, broad, and discerning knowledge of art and artists.  This led to a large expansion in his circle of friends and mentors, and to his relationships with two institutions that he loved: The Art Gallery of Ontario, of which he was a long-time supporter, and the Power Plant, where he chaired the board.  Tom was additionally the president of the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation, a granting agency aligned with the AGO, which supports Canadian artists in the middle of their careers.  He also became an advisor to other emergent art collectors.  All of these roles brought Tom into contact with imagination, creativity, philanthropy, and community, and into deep, abiding friendships.  In this he was a truly fortunate man.


In early 2018 Tom was diagnosed with a glioblastoma.  This caused some alarm among those who loved him.  We feared the loss of cognitive function in a man who lived for his intellect, and the degradation of his singular personality.  Tom never let this happen, and virtually to the end he retained his often-acerbic wit, an insistence on correct form and precision in language, and that smile which was the delight to all those around him.  In the face of a fearsome and often relentless disease, Tom was given a true gift – a relaxation of his characteristic formality and froideur, which allowed him to share like never before his feelings and deepest thoughts with friends and family.  They shared back, like long-lost cousins coming together at a Tom reunion.


The last chapter of Tom's life was spent at Kensington Hospice, a true sanctuary in every sense of the word.  Tom's family would like to thank this remarkable organization of dedicated professionals and caring people.  Those interested in honouring Tom's life with a donation are invited to contribute to the Kensington Foundation.  Tom leaves behind his dog Eddie, his partner Woody, and a very large family of friends.


Cremation has occurred as Tom wished, and a celebration of his life will be held on Tuesday, December 11th at 6:00 p.m. in the AGO, 317 Dundas St West.  All who knew Tom are invited to leave a reminiscence or a story on the humprehymiles website