Today, We are Celebrating the Life of Leslie R. Peterson, CM, OBC, Q.C., LLB.

Boughton Law’s origin dates back to 1949 when James Edgar Boughton, Q.C. and Leslie Raymond Peterson, Q.C. started their own practices in the heart of downtown Vancouver after graduating from UBC law school. A couple of years later, Jim and Les joined forces to grow the firm into the West Coast law firm that it is today.

Les passed away peacefully on April 14, 2015 at 91 years. With his passing, the profession has lost one of its most distinguished members and the province an outstanding citizen.

We are gathering today to celebrate his life. A procession of distinguished speakers will take the stage to share their memories of Les and to pay tribute to his many accomplishments as a politician, mason, lawyer, chancellor and family man.

 


 

The below article was published in the June 2015 issue of The Advocate. We would like to express our gratitude to Gordon Fulton, Q.C. for putting together this thoughtful tribute.

 

Les was born on October 6, 1923 near Viking, Alberta. His parents, Margaret and Herman owned a farm where he lived until aged 14.

Upon leaving home, he moved into a housekeeping room in the town, paying for his room by doing part time janitorial work.  He attended Camrose Lutheran College and had completed his first year at McGill University before world events led him to joining the Royal Canadian Army.

He took correspondence courses while serving in the Coast Artillery in Prince Rupert and served overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers from 1942-1946.  His talents were obvious to his senior officers and, while stationed in England, the army sent him to the University of London for further study. He served in the field in Holland.

Upon discharge from the army, he enrolled at UBC Law School and graduated as a member of the Class of ’49.  After knocking on doors and finally landing an articling position, he learned on the day his articles were set to begin that his principal had left the practice of law to become a commercial fisherman.

Les ultimately articled with Howard C. Coulter who shared offices with Ernest Silverton and he found himself working for both of them.

In 1950, Les married Agnes Hine.  They had two children Raymond and Karen.

Upon leaving Mr. Coulton’s employ, Les opened his own practice working as a sole practitioner until 1952, when along with Dick Anderson (later Anderson J.A.), he established the firm of Peterson and Anderson whose offices were at the Holden Building on East Hastings Street.

In the beginning, his law practice was of a general nature.  Elsewhere he has described his approach to legal work in those early years as: “What’s your problem?  That’s my specialty.” He did, however, enjoy trial work.  He talked of an exchange with the presiding judge following his first Supreme Court trial when upon being complimented on his conduct of the trial, he admitted that he had been far from relaxed, experiencing a knotted stomach, perspiration and nervousness.  The advice he received from the Bench was “If you ever lose the butterflies and the tension, you’d better quit.”

In 1956, Peterson and Anderson merged with Boughton Jensen McConnell to become Boughton Peterson Anderson McConnell Dunfee and Jensen.

By this time, however, Les had become involved in provincial politics and he left private practice until 1972.  In the 1956 General Election he ran as the Social Credit candidate for Vancouver Centre, winning the seat which he represented until 1968.  In the General Election of that year, he was elected as MLA for Vancouver -Little Mountain.  In total, he served 16 consecutive years in the Legislature, holding cabinet rank during the entire period.  His cabinet posts included Minister of Education (1956-1968), Minister of Labour (1960-1971) and Attorney General (1968-1972).

While Les was Minister of Education, he opened over 100 schools, public universities increased from one to three (Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria being added), a community college system was established and BCIT was founded.  According to the website celebrating SFU’s 50th anniversary this year, Les is most often credited with the final choice of the name for the university. Someone had wisely noted that “Fraser University”, the name originally proposed for the new university, might lead to embarrassing results if used in abbreviated form.

During his tenure as Attorney-General, the Provincial Court of British Columbia was established, a Judicial Council for that court created, and legislation to compensate victims of crime enacted

Following his electoral defeat in the 1972 General Election, he returned to the practice of law with his former firm, by then known as Boughton & Company.

His time in government ensured that there was a steady stream of very interesting files arriving in the office.  Those that he did not handle personally, he liberally distributed amongst his partners and associates.  His practice included a broad spectrum of clients: corporate, government, high net worth individuals and individuals of modest means. He always treated all his clients, irrespective of their individual circumstances, with respect.

His legal skills had not diminished during his time in government.  His practice focused on administrative law, with an emphasis on transportation law.  He was involved in numerous hearings before the then Motor Carrier Commission.  The rules of procedure before that commission, at least into the mid 1980s, were exceptionally flexible.  One might even receive an expert’s report shortly before the expert gave evidence.  Les’ advocacy skills were such that any potential advantage received through surprise often either proved illusory, or at best temporary, in nature.

Les also served as an arbitrator in both international and domestic arbitrations.

He once appeared in the provincial court to defend an accused in a criminal matter.  That was sometime in the 1970s.  Ken Learn, who juniored Les on that file, describes the reaction of court staff to Les’ arrival as comparable to the arrival of a movie star.  While Les was as ever kind to those greeting him, he remained focused on the task at hand – the acquittal of his client, which he achieved.

Despite a very busy legal practice, which usually had him at his desk by 8:00 a.m., Les always had time for community service. From the time he returned to practice until at least the early 1990s, his calendar was usually amongst the busiest of any of the lawyers at Boughton.  Fortunate indeed was the community organization that had Les as a member of its board. It was even more fortunate if he agreed to take on an executive position on the board.

Public education remained important to Les throughout his life.  He first became a member of the UBC Board of Governors in 1978 and later served as Chair. From 1987-1993 he served as the university’s Chancellor.  He also served on many of UBC’s advisory committees.  During his tenure as Chancellor some 36,000 graduates passed before him at Convocation.  He also conferred 79 honorary doctorates.

Over the years after 1972, he served the following community organizations, among others:  the BC Historical Association, the BC Library Association, the Canadian Child Health Association, the Grandview Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, the John Howard Society of British Columbia, the Shriners, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

Les served on many of boards and committees of the Shriners.   In 1988, he served as Potentate of the Gizeh Temple Shrine. He was involved with the Shriners at the international level as well. He was particularly interested in the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children and devoted innumerable hours to that cause.  Through his activities with the Shriners, he was also instrumental in raising funds to build a burn unit at the Children’s Hospital.

In 1990, he was awarded the Order of British Columbia and in 2000 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada.  The news release announcing his Order of BC award contains the following introduction:

Few British Columbians can claim the breadth of distinguished service to this Province and its people as can Leslie Peterson.

He held honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and an honorary Doctor of Education from Notre Dame University of Nelson.  The comments made in 1993 when Les was presented to the Vice Chancellor of UBC to receive his honorary Doctor of Laws from that university echo those made when he was awarded the Order of BC:

Since retiring from formal political life in 1972, he has amassed a record of community service that is unsurpassed by any measure.

Les was also an Honorary Deputy of the French National Assembly.  This honour arose from his involvement with government business in Paris and in the campaigns of Real Caouette and the Parti Creditiste in Quebec.  With the assistance of   Dr. Harry Hickman, who served as acting president and the head of Modern Languages and the French Department of the University of Victoria, Les had his speeches translated and dictated into a tape recorder.  He then memorized the speeches and was apparently able to deliver them in almost flawless French.  Needless to say, his francophone audiences were delighted with his efforts. While he needed recourse to interpreters in subsequent conversations with members of the audience, the connection had been made.

In 2009, Les reached the 60 year milestone as a member of the BC Bar.

Les was not all work and no play.  He enjoyed boating, fishing, skiing, tennis, and intermittently golf.  He and Agnes would generally holiday at their home in Lake Havasu, Arizona for a month every spring.

Les and Agnes were very gracious hosts.  They hosted summer pool parties for the lawyers and students at their home for many years.  The parties were always one of the highlights of the summer.

Les was always immaculately dressed.  He was very comfortable wearing a tuxedo and one might be forgiven for thinking that formal attire was created especially for him.  However, he was not without a mischievous sense of fashion.  In his later years, he would often appear at certain Boughton events, notably the Christmas party, in black leather pants.  He was still wearing the leather pants to the Christmas party when he was in his 80s.

Les was ever a gentleman and always courteous. He had a vice regal quality about him, but it was a quality that was tempered with a common touch. That he had accomplished so many things during his lifetime never seemed to interfere with his relationships with the lawyers, students or staff at Boughton.  His warm and engaging personality always seemed to overcome any hurdles that might otherwise exist.

His caring nature was not only reflected in the community service already referred to, but it was also demonstrated in his daily actions in the office.  Les was always genuinely interested in how one’s family was doing and truly cared about the people he worked with.  His legal assistant for some 20 years, Mary Holm, recalls one occasion when her leg was temporarily in a cast.  Les gave her his underground parking spot so it was easier for her to get to work.

She calls working for him an honour and a privilege.  That sentiment is endorsed by probably everyone at Boughton, past and present, who had the opportunity to work with him.  Les was always a team player and he cared for all the team members.

Remembering Les, brings to mind the last verse of Kipling’s poem “If”:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Les was one of those very rare individuals who could walk with Kings, yet never lost the common touch. He will be greatly missed.

Les is survived by Agnes, his wife of 65 years, his son Raymond and daughter-in-law, Sherry, daughter Karen, 5 grandchildren and his sister Lorraine.