Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gave a moving eulogy at a July 8 celebratory memorial for Canon (lay) Robert “Bob” Falby, QC, who died June 8.
The service at Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James paid tribute to the Christian life and attainments of the distinguished jurist and former prolocutor of the national church, with Archbishop Colin Johnson, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario and bishop of the diocese of Toronto, presiding.
Hiltz opened his remarks with a prayer on the glory and generosity of God by 17th-century English bishop and theologian Jeremy Taylor, who among his many works wrote treatises on the rule and exercise of holy living and holy dying in the communion of the church. Falby’s life exemplified such living, Hiltz said. “This prayer holds for me so much of what I know and respect about Robert. It speaks to life and how we’re called to live it. It speaks to death and how we face it. It speaks to our faith and hope in Christ Jesus.”
He touched on Falby’s great devotion to his family and his generosity. “Robert loved much and was much loved,” Hiltz said. He spoke of Falby’s rapport magical with small children, winning them over with humour and pretending to mix up their names. The secret to his touch? “You have to let kids think they’re smarter than you—to empower them,” Falby once said.
A lawyer with the Toronto law office of Miller Thomson, Falby served as prolocutor (speaker of General Synod, the church’s governing body) from 2009 to 2013 and acted as chancellor (chief legal officer) of the Anglican diocese of Toronto from 1992 to 2014.
Hiltz referred to Falby’s many years of distinguished and honourable service as a jurist—”He stood tall,” working up to the end of 2014 despite his illness. Falby’s last months of life remind us that as precious and full as life is, it is also precarious and fragile, the archbishop noted. And in the face his illness, Falby continued to exhibit humour and an irrepressible optimism.
Hiltz noted Falby’s role as a member of the church’s residential schools negotiating committee and his resounding statement on the apology made by former primate Archbishop Michael Peers, which at the time was questioned as perhaps setting a dangerous legal precedent: “It was the right thing to do.” Falby remained committed to truth and reconciliation in Canada.
Hiltz described how Falby gave generously to the church of his “time, talent and treasure,” supporting many church endeavours at the international, national and parish levels, and lending his legal expertise to the Anglican Communion. As chair of the church’s commission on the marriage canon, he persevered in the “daunting role” even in the face of terminal illness.
Falby’s deep faith stayed with him to the end. “Robert trusted in the word of the Good Shepherd,” Hiltz said. “Even in the shadow of death, Robert knew the Good Shepherd was there to comfort him.” And in the words of Psalm 23, Falby knew the shepherd was there to anoint his head with oil and make his cup run over, said Hiltz, adding that the psalm’s closing words befit Falby and his exemplary life in the faith: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
On June 5, three days before his death, Falby dictated a message to Archbishop Johnson and other supporters: “As I woke up this morning, it occurred to me that I am the subject of a wide circle of prayer within the communion, which came on spontaneously for me as assistance in bearing all this. The church universal—one body, one mind—is close to my heart. Where I previously understood this intellectually, I now know it fully. I’m not only grateful for your prayers. I want to acknowledge how supportive it is for me personally in bearing up to the challenge on a day-to-day basis. Such an outpouring of prayer is enormously supportive and an illustration of the phrase ‘we are one body.’ Please know that your prayers are reciprocated.”
Hiltz said that Anglicans can honour Falby’s memory by emulating the life he lived.
Bishops, officers and staff at General Synod and the diocese of Toronto were among those who attended the service.