GC Stephen Sigurdson is remembered as ‘a wonderful guy’

Members of Ontario’s legal community have been grieving the loss of Stephen Sigurdson, Manulife general counsel and former Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP partner, who died last Wednesday in Toronto following a cardiac arrest in October; he was 56.

“Steve was a wonderful guy,” David Allgood, counsel for Dentons Canada LLP, told Legal Feeds. “I knew him as a partner at Osler, as a part of the general counsel community and as member of the Dean's Advisory Council at Queens Law. He was a smart lawyer with great judgment.

“Steve was a very good lawyer, but he was also a very good person,” Allgood adds. “He was unassuming, understated; he was a warm, generous person, beyond being an excellent lawyer. What differentiates him is the quality of the individual. He was a real team player.”

A native of Manitoba, Sigurdson studied civil engineering at the University of Manitoba and law at Queen's University, where he met his wife, Leslie, and graduated in the class of ’84. He was a devoted Queen's alum and became a member of the Queen's Law Dean's Council (his eldest daughter, Laura, would also graduate from Queen’s Law in 2013).

Sigurdson articled with the firm Lang Michener (now part of McMillan LLP) before spending the bulk of his legal career as a partner at Osler, which he joined in 1989 as an associate. With a corporate practice focusing mostly on M&A, Sigurdson’s roles would include managing partner of the firm’s New York office from 2000 to 2004, co-managing partner in Toronto and chairman of the Business Law department. In 2010, he left private practice to join Manulife as general counsel Canada, becoming GC in May of 2014. In 2015, Chambers & Partners Canada made him the first winner of Chambers Canada Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Profession: In-House.

Melissa Kennedy, executive vice president and chief legal officer for Sun Life Financial, met Sigurdson through the GC community and worked with him on a number of initiatives, most recently through the Association of Canadian General Counsel, she says.

“Steve is a wonderful guy,” says Kennedy. “Everybody liked him. He was a delight to work with, incredibly smart, great sense of humour. You always had the impression how much he loved his family: his wife, Leslie, and their four girls.” That impression of him was uniform, she says, “through Oslers, the Queen’s community, Manulife.”

Sigurdson also had “great instincts and judgment,” Kennedy adds. “He will be really, really missed by lots of people. Everyone I’ve talked to is full of sorrow, and our thoughts go out to his family.”

Jeffrey S. Leon is a partner and co-head of litigation with Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto; he came to know Sigurdson after the latter joined Manulife as GC and Leon had been acting for Manulife on several matters.

“He was a very good friend,” says Leon. “He was a very wise and compassionate person, and a wise and compassionate lawyer. I say that because, in the cases that we’ve worked on together, he wanted Manulife to be successful. Often, for him, success was defined by doing the right thing. I think that demonstrated his approach to life.”

Sigurdson’s approach to building relationships might best be described in his own words; in an interview for the alumni section of Osler’s website last July, he said, “It’s important to remember that the practice of law is as much about relationships as it is about legal rules and analysis. Work early in your career to devote time to the give-and-take of relationships — with others in your firm, with clients, with members of the community — and you’ll never regret it.”

“That is the way he lived his life,” says Leon, noting he’d had the chance to see Sigurdson interact with the people he worked with when Leon would host lawyers from Manulife for sporting games in Toronto.

“I feel that my life is better for knowing him, and I’ll miss him very much.”

Sigurdson is survived by his wife, Leslie, their daughters Laura, Claire, Amy and Heather, his mother Ivadell, and other family members. A memorial service will be held today at Eglinton St. George’s United Church in Toronto at 2:30 p.m.

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