Jacques de Billy, who was born about three years after the firm that now carries his family’s name came into being, died last week at the age of 98.
“He was the principal engineer of the firm in Quebec City,” says Pierre Beaudoin, a partner at Lavery de Billy who has worked there since 1970 and who last saw de Billy at the firm’s 100th-anniversary party in 2013.
De Billy joined the Quebec bar in 1938 and practised at the firm that would eventually become Lavery de Billy until his retirement about 20 years ago. He practised alongside his father, Valmore de Billy, as well as his brother, the late Gilles de Billy.
“Everybody loved him — the staff, the young lawyers, the older lawyers,” says Beaudoin. “He was very respected as a lawyer and as a human being. We can’t say that about everybody.”
While a major player in the Quebec legal field, de Billy worked across Canada’s linguistic and legal divide. After studying law at Laval University, he went on to do a common law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and, fairly early in his career, sat on the boards of directors of several major anglophone companies such as the Toronto-Dominion Bank and Shell Canada, something his firm says was rare for a francophone at the time.
He also served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, rising to the rank of captain, and joined several foundations, including serving as governor of the Laval University foundation. After returning from the war, he went back to practise at the firm where he developed he reputation as an insurance lawyer.
“He was always business-minded,” says Beaudoin, who credits de Billy’s social ease when meeting other lawyers and business leaders with helping take what was a roughly eight-lawyer Quebec City office of Gagnon de Billy in 1970 to about 45 practitioners when it merged with Lavery O’Brien of Montreal in the early 1990s. At the time, many Quebec City law firms largely focused on smaller liability cases such as car accidents, but de Billy saw bigger opportunities, according to Beaudoin.
“He really saw that the future was with business,” he says.
Despite his business connections, Beaudoin calls de Billy a “leader of the firm without ostentation.” He says for many years de Billyl took the ferry from his home in Lévis, Que., across the St. Lawrence River to work in Quebec City every day.
“He used to say, ‘It’s a good lesson for me in life to take the ferry in the morning and in the evening because I meet ordinary people,’” says Beaudoin, who notes de Billy eventually moved across the river.
“He was a nice man, a fine gentleman,” he adds.