Profile of Larry Shapiro

[Interviewed by Grace Hann]
Larry Shapiro

Growing up in a Jewish community in Montreal was in some ways a little isolating as my mom ruled with an iron fist and overcompensated for my dad who died when I was very young. It wasn’t until we moved to the suburbs and attended a regular and very diverse school did I recognize some of the symptoms of anti-Semitism. Many of my shorter Jewish friends were bullied and singled out with lots of ridicule and beatings. I understood only too well how difficult it was to be made fun of. As a young boy, I stuttered, this lead to ridicule and shame. Little did I know that I would not let this happen to others; I became a champion of those young boys and always jumped in to help. As a young man, I joined the Jewish Defense League and the Civil Defense. I knew then that my life would not be determined by a single event.

In 1967 as soon as I heard about what then became The Six-Day War, I signed up and within 48 hours I was in Tel Aviv, ready to help out wherever I could. I stayed for four months. I was struck by the dangers peoples’ lives were in on a daily basis. Today, reflecting back I believe my road map was designed before I had any say!

As a career, I studied accounting, worked at major firms as well as with the Federal government. In 1977, I studied real estate and opened my own business until I retired several years ago. Now it’s time to make another change. My wife Dianne who has been my constant companion decided with me to move to Vancouver to be closer to our children and grandchildren. I first met Dianne when I was sixteen years old, at that time, I was too immature to make a positive impression. It was only many years later through serendipitous events that we met again. This time I had hoped she would accept the mature person I had become. She did!

I knew moving at this stage of my life would be challenging but nothing prepared me for this feeling of being all alone in a new city. Many days I rode the elevator in our apartment building trying to get to know other people, but nothing was sticking. But then one day, I met Serge Haber. Has anyone ever tried to say no to Serge? I explored volunteer opportunities at JSA and decided to sign up for the Senior Peer Counselling training. Listening was not a natural ability for me but I continue to work on it. Through volunteering, my life has become much richer. I have met amazing older people with such diverse backgrounds and yet, all with a common underlying issue; isolation and loneliness. I believe this is the worst affliction imaginable, made worse by its invisibility and stigma. I feel so honoured and humbled to be a part of the difference.