Legal 'giant' Roy Heenan dies at 81

Roy Heenan, founder of one Canada's most prestigious and well-connected law firms, has died. He was 81.

Heenan was a founding partner of Heenan Blaikie, a prestigious Montreal law firm

A service for Roy Heenan will be held in Montreal on Friday. (CBC)

Roy Heenan, founder of one Canada's most prestigious and well-connected law firms, has died. He was 81.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, whose board of directors Heenan chaired for a decade, said the lawyer passed away on Friday, Feb. 3, after a "long illness."

Heenan was one of three founders of Heenan Blaikie, a Montreal-based law firm whose lawyers once included former prime ministers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien.

The firm, which opened in 1973, had 500 lawyers at nine offices across Canada and one in Paris at its peak.

Heenan served as chairman until 2012. The firm closed suddenly in 2014.

One the firm's co-founders was Donald Johnston, who eventually moved on to a career in federal politics, serving as minister of justice under Pierre Trudeau.

Johnston and Heenan met at McGill University in the 1950s and both eventually began teaching at their alma mater.

Johnston said students told him that, while they didn't enjoy waking up for 8 a.m. classes, they made an exception for Heenan.

"They found him so stimulating and so interesting they didn't want to miss anything," he said.

Heenan was described by his colleagues as a "giant" in the field of labour law and was an avid patron of the arts. But for Johnston, Hennan's death is a great personal loss.

"He was a remarkable person, a wonderful friend, extremely generous, very energetic, very able, very humorous, a wonderful companion," Johnston said.

Excellence in law, influence in social circles

Heenan was the first chairman of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which was established in 2001 and develops and promotes ideas and innovation in the social sciences and humanities fields.

On its website, the organization called Heenan "one of Canada's leading labour lawyers. He had the reputation of being a formidable litigator."

Heenan was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1998. Ten years later, the Quebec Bar Association named him an emeritus lawyer, a title that "not only recognized the excellence of Roy's professional career and his outstanding contribution to the legal profession, but also acknowledged his exceptional influence in his social and professional circles," the Trudeau Foundation said Monday.

McGill also awarded Heenan an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2008.

"Roy will be greatly missed by the many people whose lives he touched in such a positive way. All our thoughts are with his family and friends," the foundation said.

A service will be held at Montreal's St. George's Anglican Church on Friday at 1 p.m.

with files from Elysha Enos