by Barry Weisleder
Eryl Court, a devoted peace activist, a staunch feminist and a long-time supporter of Rebel Films in Toronto, passed away on November 28, at 94 years of age. Like Moses, she lived a long time, imbued with a profound sense of hope in the potential of humanity. Alas, like him, she was not able to witness the birth of the better world for which she strived. We miss Eryl. We miss her wit, her impish laugh, her zest for public discourse. These memories are her lasting gift to us all.
I knew Eryl in a political capacity. As the federal secretary of Socialist Action, I had the pleasure of greeting her at many of our events over the past decade. Invariably, she sat in the front row. That was not only so that she could better hear the proceedings. It was there that the diminutive but indomitable, irrepressible, and eloquently outspoken Eryl could quickly gain the attention of the chairperson, and so be among the first to be called upon to speak in the open floor discussion time.
At our gatherings, Eryl would often conclude her remarks with the words: “We need a world in one piece. That is spelled P I E C E and P E A C E.”
She was for nuclear weapons disarmament, without hesitation, without pre-conditions. Like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, she was for unilateral disarmament by the west. She knew that passing the buck on disarmament only ensures more wasteful military spending. And worse, it paves the road to oblivion, and that is simply not an option.
Eryl was born in London England to the family of Samuel and Esther Levers on August 7, 1924. She was the youngest of 3 children. Her eldest brother, Peter Dennis Levers, died about 10 years ago in Carleton Place, Ontario. The younger brother died in the UK quite a bit earlier.
According to the Birth Registration Certificate, the family lived in North Finchley, a suburb of London. Subsequently they lived in a south coast town called Bognor Regis.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, in the face of German air raids, the British government decided to evacuate children to North America. Eryl was one of the evacuees. Her host was a family living in Wisconsin. It seems that over the years she maintained a relationship with her host family.
Eryl traveled back to the UK at war’s end to be with her birth family. Eventually, she returned to North America to attend the University in Toronto. That is where she met Abe Roytenberg.
Abe had mustered out of the RCAF in late 1944. With veteran’s grants, he attained a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Manitoba. He then went to the University of Toronto for a Master’s degree, where he and Eryl met and then married in 1946.
They lived in Toronto all of their married life. Eryl gained employment as a social worker for a part of that period. She was always concerned with social causes and they were both actively involved in left wing politics and the peace movement.
After they were divorced, Eryl married William “Billy” Court.
Eryl traveled a great deal in her advocacy for the peace movement. She visited India and Japan in her eighties. She traveled extensively in North America, frequently attending peace conferences. She also visited friends in the U.K.
Eryl was a constant and extensive contributor to a variety of charities and self-help promoting organizations. She had a lengthy list of these groups which had monthly pre-authorized access to her bank account. She gave constantly, and in death the giving continues.
Eryl’s health declined sharply in her last few months. Fortunately, she had a dear friend, Everett Barclay. He was her constant companion, right up to the end.
Here are some of Rett’s recollections about Eryl Court. Rett says that Eryl studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She obtained an MA in social work. She has always been interested in socialism.
During the bleak McCarthy era, she was active in Social Workers for Peace in Toronto. She suffered for that professionally. Eryl always had a lively mind. Her interests were Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and live theatre of all kinds. Rett got to know her through a mutual interest in the Russian language. Eryl visited the Soviet Union many times. She was there during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. When she returned to Canada, she appeared on the CBC television program Front Page Challenge and told of her experiences.
Rett traveled with her to Cuba, in or around the year 2000. They were members of the Canada Cuba Friendship Association. Eryl travelled all over the world on behalf of the peace movement. She visited Rio de Janeiro, which she described as wonderful and horrible. She was a representative of the Unitarian Church at the United Nations in New York. Dutifully at her computer keyboard, Eryl kept in touch regularly with peace activists. Talking to her was like attending a university lecture. She was also interested in world religions and philosophies. As mentioned before, she married twice. Her first marriage to Abe Roytenberg unfortunately ended in divorce. She married again to Tommy Court, but that ended with his untimely death. Later, when Abe was very ill, he came to live with Eryl and she took care of him until his death. She maintained a very close friendship with Abe’s brother Harry and his wife Jeannette.
Thank you, Rett, for those fine recollections.
Allow me to add a few parting thoughts. In so many ways, Eryl was an extraordinary person. As someone famously said, “The philosophers have, hitherto, interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.” Eryl set out to change the world, not to accept it as it is, not to observe its turmoil and social struggles at a safe distance, but to roll up her sleeves and work to change it for the good of us all. Eryl was a socialist and a feminist, which is why my party, Socialist Action, is so blessed to have enjoyed her company.
Eryl was a feminist long before the second wave of feminism shook the world, and true to her principles, feminists continue to expose the hypocrisy of the current federal government. By her enduring example, Eryl answered the question: What is the purpose of life? It is to make life better for all. It is to unchain the human genius from the shackles of the profit system. It is to put an end to exploitation, plunder and war, and by our unfettered ingenuity, to fill existence with knowledge, love and beauty.
Thank you, Eryl, for sharing your life with us.