Margaret Ostrowski, QC prepared these profiles of Alix Sutherland and Lloyd Wilson in tribute to the life and work of our longest-serving members of the profession. Sadly, since these interviews and just before the Bulletin went to press, Ms. Sutherland passed away. This article is dedicated to her memory.
Voices of experience — stories of those who have gone before us
When we think of the people we call our colleagues, most likely to come to mind are the lawyers who work with us or perhaps those we have stayed in touch with since law school days. We may even keep those circles of colleagues, friends and acquaintances throughout our careers. But forging new friendships can be difficult, so it’s always a rare treat to meet a lawyer who has travelled down a different road.
Margaret Ostrowski, QC was fortunate to have met not just one such lawyer, but two, in recent months. As she finished off her term of service as a Bencher for Vancouver at the end of last year, she reflected on the fact that the generation gap should not be a barrier that keeps lawyers apart. After all, law is a mentoring profession, and an ongoing dialogue between generations of lawyers made sense. She wanted to sit down with a couple of long-serving members of the profession to learn more about them as lawyers, and as people.
With this thought in mind and with the approval of the Women in the Legal Profession Task Force, she made arrangements to meet Lloyd Wilson, called in 1947, and Alix Sutherland, called in 1950. These two lawyers first donned robes in what seems like simpler times. There were fewer than a thousand lawyers in the province, five people running the Law Society office and, yes, much less law on the books.
But both Alix and Lloyd had to work hard throughout their respective careers, and they did so with determination and confidence. Having lived through the Depression and a World War undoubtedly gave them the necessary perspective and perseverance, and both received encouragement in their youth to do their very best. As Margaret discovered when she interviewed each of them, they shared a few common traits that may explain their long years in the profession. Neither shied away from change when change made sense. This was so in both their professional lives and their personal lives.
Margaret hopes you enjoy these profiles of Alix Sutherland and Lloyd Wilson, people she came to respect deeply and to regard not only as colleagues, but as friends.
Alix Sutherland — quiet reflections on living life well
by Margaret Ostrowski, QC
Florentine art tastefully adorns the home of Alix Sutherland. In the bookcase near the large blue and gold patterned Italian vase, there are rows and rows of her collection of notable British trials from 1900 to the 1950s. Alix always loved mysteries and stories of true crimes. As time proved, this turned into a love of the law as well. As of early this year, Alix was the longest practising female lawyer in British Columbia and carried on a part-time wills and estates practice in the Lower Mainland after 55 years in the profession.
Alix was called to the bar on July 29, 1950. She grew up in the Kerrisdale area of Vancouver with one older sister and attended Quilchena Elementary, Point Grey Junior Secondary and McGee Senior Secondary. She finished two years of a General Arts degree before entering UBC law school. In her teens Alix took a keen interest in crime stories and became a collector of newspaper articles and books; she followed the newspaper reports of the Harry Oakes murder in the ‘40s and was captivated. Although she had no family members with law background to guide her, her love of books and crime lore made the study of law a perfect match for her.
Alix said she wanted it known that she was not a violent person — she was, on the contrary, petite, shy and genteel — but she had been always fascinated with the “whodunit’s.” She said “in my law school days, when I should have been studying in the library, I would be reading from their British trials collection and couldn’t put the books down.” Alix was also musical and had completed her last year of piano and was an Associate of the Toronto Conservatory of Music.
Alix’s father was a travelling cutlery salesman and was not home very often when she was young. Alix was influenced by her mother Winifred Forbes who she described as a workaholic. With true entrepreneurial spirit, Winifred established a shoe store at Hastings and Seymour, where her husband joined her and the two worked hard there to pay for their daughter’s university education. Winifred also asked Russell and DuMoulin, the law firm that incorporated her shoe business, to secure an articling position for her daughter.
Sitting next to Alix in her law school lectures were many young men who had returned from the war. She married one of them, James Sutherland, and they became one of the first couples practising law together in BC. Alix recalled that articling took place over the summers during law school and the work consisted mostly of searching titles in the land title office. She didn’t recall learning a whole lot and remembered that “we women students — the few of us that there were — used to get all the ‘joe jobs’.”
On her call to the bar, she and her husband established the law firm of Sutherland and Sutherland in Vancouver. Her husband knew how to type better than she did, so she had to teach herself how to type as they both did their own secretarial work. He was the public speaker and she was the shy one — as she admitted “I was and still am absolutely petrified of speaking in public.” She felt that she was more inclined to the solicitor’s part of the practice, and began to establish herself in that role. The couple moved the practice to Quesnel, but returned after three years.
She had two daughters, one in 1951 and one in 1955, and stayed at home while they were very young. One is now a college instructor in math and computers and the other is a computer programmer. She also had six grandchildren. Her husband James died in November 1992.
Even after so many years, Alix found law to be as interesting as ever and was of the opinion that it is a good place for women. “Law is a profession that is people-oriented,” she said. “And women are interested in people. Women should practise law … and maybe women bring some different values to the practice.”
Alix felt that law kept her mind active. “I kept at the practice of law because there is no other occupation that I would be any good in,” she said. “And I don’t like sitting around.” She admitted to never getting rich practising law, but then “I never charged the high fees.”
In her view, the law had become complex or, she added on a whimsical note, “maybe it was always complex and I just didn’t realize it.” She liked computers and welcomed the change from the era of the typewriter —“It’s so easy to make changes on a computer. All my documents are on the computer.”
She always followed the adage “I don’t take on any work that I do not know how to do. I don’t want to make a mistake.” Alix kept her overhead low and attended regular CLE courses, although she didn’t know anyone when she attended.
Arthritis in her hands and back and some leg problems slowed her down in her later days, but Alix reflected on the satisfaction that comes from a life well lived: “I enjoy the independence of working on my own schedule and not for anyone else,” she said. “My husband and I started our practice from nothing and we made our living and raised a family.” A simple summary, but one that says it all.
Lloyd Wilson — always up for the challenge
by Margaret Ostrowski, QC
He drives a red mustang and works out at the gym several times a week. He has played tennis since law school days and competed for Canada in seniors tournaments in Japan in 1997 and 1998. He was called to the bar in British Columbia in 1947 and has been practising full time ever since. Lloyd Wilson turns 90 this year and has the honour of being the longest practising lawyer in BC.
Lloyd first resolved to become a lawyer as a boy in 1928. It happened while hanging out on the porch one day with friends when one of them besmirched the good name of the profession, sneering that “lawyers were liars.” True to his future calling, Lloyd objected. He was to prove them wrong, and in dramatic fashion. He put aside his ambitions to be professional athlete and set his sights on becoming a lawyer.
Lloyd was born and raised in Ladner — his father was a clerk in the Ladner General Store. He had an older brother who was an avid ham radio operator and a supportive entrepreneurial mother who paid his way through university and taught him to play tennis. He also played badminton, basketball, baseball and lacrosse for the New Westminster Salmonbellies. His mother was a Burr and first cousin to actor Raymond Burr who inspired a dream in many young people in the 1950s and ‘60s to become Perry Mason.
After an undergraduate degree in economics, Lloyd entered articles and began his formal legal studies. He had five classmates, and lectures were given in the huts and law offices by notable judges and senior practitioners. He recalls excellent lectures from Senator Farris on international law.
However, after first year, Lloyd and his best friend Bob Wilson answered the call to arms in the war, joined the RCAF and trained as bomber command pilots. Sadly, Bob was killed on his first mission, but Lloyd returned from the war and entered UBC law school in the fall of 1945 (two months late). There were many more students now and the Law Society accorded him the benefit of reduced articling time for having served in the war.
He initially was articled to A. Hugo Ray of Walsh Bull & Company and subsequently to Percy White of Wilson White. “When I was a law articling student in 1940-41, I received $15 per month,” he recalls. “After the war, I received $20 per month, about the going wage.” He remembers buying revenue stamps and applying them to file documents at the Registry as part of his work. He was called to the bar on May 26, 1947 and received the standard two certificates from the Law Society that now hang on the wall in his Abbotsford office — one admitting him to the bar as a barrister and one as a solicitor.
His first venture was a solo solicitor’s practice in the offices of Moscrop Realty at Burrard and Robson where he had a small cubicle. Lloyd always had sports as a number two interest and, at that time, the sport was rowing. Frank Wilson, lawyer and rowing coach, invited him to come to Chilliwack in his office where he practised for a year from April 1948 through March 1949.
He set out his shingle on Essendene Street, Abbotsford on April 1, 1949. After 12 years he and his wife Shirley, whom he married in 1946, purchased two lots at the corner of Montrose Avenue and what is now George Ferguson Way, Abbotsford. They constructed his law office building in 1961 where he has practised to this day. Lloyd and Shirley raised their daughter Cindy in Abbotsford. He is well known as a general practitioner in the Fraser Valley. Shirley died in 1994, but Lloyd enjoys spending time with Cindy, her husband Rob and his two grandchildren, Adam and Sarah, ages 16 and 19. He also looks forward to his annual trips to Hawaii where he has made new friends. He received an honourary LL.B. in 1995 from the UBC law school.
Lloyd is not a computer dinosaur. He welcomed photocopiers, computers and the like as considerably streamlining the practice of law — hours previously spent by staff typing are now just moments. “I find it difficult to attribute any negativity to the advantages of modernization,” he says.
He has noticed a big change in the profession over the years, including greater diversity. “There were two women in my graduate class and four men — much different now,” he notes. “Many nationalities are now engaged in practising law.”
When asked what he had planned for his 90th year, Lloyd wants to slow down a little and practise part-time. He has always enjoyed his work and feels that that enjoyment has enabled him to continue. “My personal philosophy with respect to the practice of law is to be honest with one’s client and opponent and consider one’s service to the client first, and consider the fee second,” he says.
Cheery, energetic and full of life, Lloyd Wilson faces life with renewed vigour and looks forward to the adventure of a new day. As lawyers should.