Speaking through tears in front of thousands of mourners, the son of billionaire philanthropists Barry and Honey Sherman said Thursday the family has been struggling to cope with his parents’ “incredibly painful and bizarrely surreal” deaths.
The couple was found dead last week in their Toronto home, and police are investigating the deaths as suspicious.
Jonathon Sherman said the unusual circumstances, coupled with intense speculation surrounding the deaths, reinforced the fact that the family has lost the glue that held them together.
“These last few days have been really f—ed up for my family,” he told a memorial service in Mississauga, Ont.
“As my sisters and I congregated for two days waiting to hear any facts other than through Twitter and the unreliable news media, I kept expecting my parents to walk through the front door and say ‘everything will be fine, we’ve taken control of the situation.’ These past few days have been a shocking adjustment to our reality.”
Police have said 75-year-old Barry Sherman and 70-year-old Honey Sherman died of “ligature neck compression,” but have released few other details about the investigation into the deaths of the founder of pharmaceutical giant Apotex and his wife.
Some media reports said police were initially leaning toward a murder-suicide theory, which the Sherman family has strongly rejected.
Jonathon Sherman, surrounded by his sisters Lauren, Alexandra and Kaelen, paid tearful tribute to his parents, praising their generosity, their competence, their support and their devotion to their Jewish heritage.
Referring to his family unit as a six-pack, he reminisced about everything from childhood family travels to massive holiday dinners to recent play times with new grandchildren. Through it all, members of the clan benefited from his parents’ boundless love and zest for life.
“Our parents never left anyone behind. They were taken from us,” he said, as two caskets lay in front of him.
WATCH: Family, friends pay tribute to Barry and Honey Sherman
Honey Sherman’s sister, Mary Shechtman, said she’s been in a fog since the loss.
Describing her sister as her “best friend” and “other half,” and Barry Sherman as both a brother-in-law and surrogate father, Shechtman said she fears the worst is yet to come.
“I’m standing here confused and dazed and really angry, and I’m afraid for the shock that’s going to wear off and the reality that’s going to set in.”
Shechtman reflected on her sister’s humble beginnings as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, recalling a childhood far removed from the affluence that would later come to the family as Apotex flourished.
She and other relatives said her sister never forgot those origins, adding they fuelled her lifelong focus on family and on giving back to society.
Sniffles could be heard from the crowd as the Shermans’ family and friends spoke. Hundreds of Apotex employees were in the crowd, with many wearing scarves in the company’s trademark bright blue and T-shirts saying “we will continue your legacy.”
Apotex Vice-Chairman Jack Kay recalled spending long hours working side-by-side with Barry Sherman, becoming good friends over the course of more than 30 years in business together.
“(Barry) was a teddy bear in real life, with the mind of a steel trap and the stubbornness of a bull,” Kay said. “We would tell each other that we would live to 120 … which he later amended to 150 as in his words, ‘ there was too much to be done.”‘
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory were also among those gathered.
Wynne offered a tribute to the Shermans’ wide-ranging contributions to causes at home and abroad.
“Because of their dedication to giving to those in need, there are countless students and patients, children and seniors, so many people here at home and around the world whose lives were touched by Honey and Barry who don’t know it,” she said. “And I get the sense that that’s exactly how the Shermans wanted it to be.”
Sen. Linda Frum, a friend of the family, reflected on a time when Honey Sherman tried to ease her fear of flying while the two travelled on a charitable mission to Israel.
“As the airplane started to speed towards liftoff, silently … she would stretch out her hand for me to hold,” Frum said. “I preserve this image of Honey in my mind because it is always how I will think of her — as a woman who, by natural inclination, extended an open hand of love, friendship and kindness out to the world.”
Barry Sherman founded Toronto-based Apotex Inc. in 1974 with two employees and gradually turned it into a generic drug giant. Along the way he amassed a vast fortune, recently estimated by Canadian Business magazine at $4.77 billion, making him the 15th richest person in Canada.
Honey Sherman was a member of the board of the Baycrest Foundation and the York University Foundation. She also served on the boards of Mount Sinai’s Women’s Auxiliary, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the International American Joint Distribution Committee.
Together, the Shermans were among Canada’s most generous philanthropists and also organized funding of charitable causes through the Apotex Foundation. The couple made numerous multimillion-dollar donations to hospitals, schools and charities and had buildings named in their honour.
Jonathon Sherman said he and his siblings were establishing a charitable foundation named after their parents to continue their philanthropic legacy.