Father/Grandfather/Rabble Rouser/Social Justice Activist/Beethoven Lover/Chinese Food Enthusiast
We are deeply saddened to announce the devastating news of the passing of Don Weitz, whose fight with lung cancer ended peacefully at home, surrounded by his loving family.
We are also stunned and shocked. It just doesn’t seem possible that his shining light and unstoppable energy are no longer with us. Since his diagnosis in February this year, we thought the doctors must surely be wrong. After all, Don was, first and foremost, a fighter with an indomitable spirit when faced with any challenge: political, medical or otherwise. A heart attack, a stroke, major eye surgery, and the myriad health issues that come with reaching 90 were no match for Don’s fierce will to make each day better than the one before. He was still going strong right up to end and, prior to Covid remained a steadfast presence at events, marches, tribunals, giving interviews and attending local calls to action on homelessness and affordable housing He kept on writing books (Resistance Matters was published just a couple years ago - LINK), and of course, never stopped writing letter after letter to politicians, newspaper editors, and corporations. His outspoken “blasts” were legendary and, as many knew, when Don blasted somebody, they remembered it!
Don was a person of integrity and principle, and of great humility. As a leader in the anti-psychiatry and disability rights movements, he incorporated the teachings of allied movements, which recognize the intersectionality of different forms of oppression. In that light, he was a steadfast anti-racist activist and a ferocious defender of Indigenous, women’s, LGBTQ rights, was a very active member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the seniors’ advocacy movement, the migrant justice organization No One Is Illegal.
Don came by his passion and deep commitment to anti-psychiatry and patient rights directly. He was always open about having been placed in the Anderson School for so-called “problem” children in the late 1930s and later psychiatrized in the 1950s, first at the Austen Riggs Center and then at McLean Hospital. At McLean, he suffered systemic abuse and was subjected to 110 insulin sub-coma shock “treatments.” All of this ultimately shaped his lifelong dedication to exposing and abolishing systemic, unethical and inhumane treatment and human rights abuses within psychiatry and in society at large. He also chose to channel these early experiences to advocate for others on a personal level, and worked tirelessly and fearlessly over the decades, helping survivors of abuse and oppression to find their voices, always lending an ear, a shoulder, an outstretched hand and a warm embrace.
Don wasn’t a religious man but had a spiritual calling to always place faith in the power of the human spirit to make a better world. The one truly spiritual force for Don was the music of Beethoven (which helped him get through those early troubled times), and especially the string quartets, piano sonatas, and symphonic works (the “Eroica” and Ninth Symphony were among his favourites). It didn’t matter how many times we listened to this music with him. The instant Beethoven’s music started playing, he would transform, often stopping mid-sentence (not a frequent occurrence with this feisty man), to conduct and sing along to the music.
Don never missed an opportunity to tell his family how much he loved us. He was always interested in our lives and supportive of our goals and dreams. He shared many wonderful times with us, often involving Chinese food (and Beethoven of course), trips to Toronto’s High Park, camping, apple picking, and attending marches and other political events. His grandchildren were his “number ones” and he took immense pride and satisfaction in them. He was particularly proud of his granddaughter Rachel’s legal aspirations and lived to see her start Osgoode Hall Law School just days before his passing. He got naches from his teenage grandson David’s leadership activities, particularly in the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization and as a camp counsellor. He also marvelled at David’s stature, declaring him the tallest Weitz that ever lived.
We are comforted to know he is now with his firstborn son, David, whose death from cancer at age nine was the crushing blow of Dad’s life; with his great friend Alf Jackson, who was like a big brother to him; and with friend and fellow activist Mel Starkman and soul-sisters Carla McKague and Bonnie Burstow. If there is even one iota of injustice to be found on the other side, he’s undoubtedly with his kindred spirits, kicking some you-know-what. An admirer of the late John Lewis, Dad is probably still getting into “good trouble.” After all, Lewis shared a poignant grammar lesson that dad always acted on: that justice and freedom are not just nouns but verbs, in the sense that justice is movement, it’s action, requiring constant nourishment.
He will be deeply and forever missed by Mark, Lisa, her partner Raymond, Sue, Rachel, David, and his wide circle of friends and activists.
We wish to express our deepest gratitude for the care he received from Mount Sinai’s home palliative team (Melissa, Marnie), St. Elizabeth’s stellar home nursing (Michelle, Sara, Emily) and personal support staff (Julita, Victor, Henry), and the years of community care from the Vibrant Healthcare Alliance (Marilyn).
Our heartfelt thanks as well to everyone for the beautiful outpouring of love for Don. His political and advocacy family meant everything to him, and your support means everything to us.
We celebrated Don's life and incredible legacy with a virtual gathering on his birthday, December 10 which, fittingly, happens to be Human Rights Day.