Montreal

Côte Saint-Luc mourns the death of longtime city councillor Ruth Kovac

Ruth Kovac, first elected to city council 29 years ago, died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 69. 

'Community was her life,' says Mayor Mitchell Brownstein

Flags will fly at half-mast in Côte Saint-Luc today in recognition of all Coun. Ruth Kovac did for the community. (Facebook)

Côte Saint-Luc's longtime city councillor Ruth Kovac worked hard for her beloved community up until the very end, and now that community is mourning her death.

Kovac, first elected to city council 29 years ago, died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 69. 

In keeping with character, her battle with the disease was quiet. She only told a select few. 

Instead, she focused on her volunteer work — managing blood drives, advocating for seniors, planning urban development and defending English-language rights in Quebec.

"She was just a wonderful person who really wanted to give back," Mayor Mitchell Brownstein told CBC News on Wednesday.

"And she did that. To the last, last minute."

When Kovac campaigned for office in November 1990, she vowed to be a full-time city councillor despite the part-time stipend the position offers. 

Brownstein said he spent time with her in her last days, looking back on that early time in office and the decades since.

"We talked about all the wonderful things we did and all the wonderful things we had to continue to do, and she was giving advice and guidance to the entire council, even myself," he said.

A city remembers

Côte Saint-Luc flags will be flown at half-mast today and a book of condolences will be placed in the city's public library this week.

Kovac was born to Holocaust survivors in Holland and, soon after, moved to Canada in 1951 where the budding family continued to grow.

Coun. Ruth Kovac with her mother, Ilse Zilversmit, in the spring of 2014. Zilversmit died at age 89 in 2016. Kovac died Tuesday at age 69. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Kovac's Dutch roots were always part of her multilingual life. A mother of three and proud grandmother, she celebrated 47 years of marriage to Peter Kovac last month.

Her family always came first, Brownstein said, but "community was her life."

As the disease progressed, Kovac would attend meetings via telephone when she couldn't make it herself. Despite her weakened state, she managed to attend the two last council meetings, sharing her thoughts and casting votes.

From demerger to English rights

Kovac co-chaired the Côte Saint-Luc demerger committee, fighting to separate from the City of Montreal and again become one of the island's handful of independent, officially bilingual municipalities in 2005.

In 2017, she co-led the fight for pictograms on Quebec highway signs to help non-French speakers understand roadside alerts.

She was an active volunteer in places like her synagogue and the Mount Sinai Hospital in Côte Saint-Luc.

On Facebook, former Côte Saint-Luc councillor Glenn Nashen described her death as an "enormous loss for the community."

Kovac had a profound attachment to Côte Saint-Luc, Montreal, Quebec and Canada, he wrote, and her "accomplishments and impact will last for generations. May her memory be a blessing to all."

In a heartfelt blog post on Tuesday, Coun. Mike Cohen said he sent Kovac an email just two days before, telling her that he is praying for a New Year miracle as part of the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah. 

He told her he hopes to speak with her later in the week as they continued to plug away together on various projects.

Always quick to reply, she wrote: "Thanks, Mike. We can try tomorrow. Rather complicated. Shana Tova."

About the Author

Isaac Olson has been a Montreal-area journalist for more than a decade.

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