Dr. Russi Balsara: An Obituary


April 14, 2020

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The Balsara family is saddened to announce the passing of their father Russi Dinshaw Balsara on Tues April 7, 2020 in Toronto at the age of 86. Devoted father (and father in law) of Khorshed ( Khor and Darrin Tooth) and Navroze (Andrea Balsara). Proud Grandpa of Zara (Ryan Bottriell), Emma, Aidan and Justine Tooth and Mehra Balsara.

Russi was born in Bandra, Mumbai (Bombay) on October 19, 1933. He is predeceased by his wife of 57 years Moti Balsara. He is also predeceased by his parents Dinshaw and Khorshed Balsara (nee Katrak) and his sister Homai Janmohammed (brother in law Iqbal Janmohammed) and sister Sabar Balsara

He received his Matriculation Degree from St. Stanislaus High School in Bandra and proceeded to St. Xavier’s College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and then onto the Nair Hospital Dental School where he obtained his Licentiate Degree in Dental Science in 1957. He was in private practice in Mumbai’s Fort District from 1958 to 1966. He was the dentist to many family and friends in Bombay and had the unfortunate task of treating one unruly niece who bit him! He was very dedicated to his vocation and upon emigrating to Canada was admitted to the University of Toronto Dental School where he graduated in 1969 with his Doctorate in Dental Surgery. Russi practiced General Dentistry in Toronto from 1969 to 1982, while also Joining the staff at the University of Toronto’s (U of T) Faculty of Dentistry in 1970 and promoted to Associate Professor in Dentistry in 1975, working in the Department of Dental Hygiene. In 1976 he began teaching Clinics on Restorative Dentistry and published an article “Geriatrics in Prosthodontics” in the Undergraduate Journal of the Faculty of Dentistry, U of T.

He joined the Veterans Affairs Canada Dental Clinic at Sunnybrook Medical Centre as a Dental Officer in 1982 and was promoted to Chief of the Dental Clinic in 1985 where he had the privilege and pleasure of treating Canadian Veterans, his ultimate dream job, for many years until his retirement from the clinic in 2001. As a sought after expert on Geriatric dentistry, he continued consultations part time for the many Toronto Public Health Dental Clinics till his health forced him to retire completely in 2010.

Russi met his wife Moti in Bombay and withstood family misgivings on their involvement due to their 9 year age difference, but nevertheless he waited patiently for her to accept his marriage proposal after she completed her Master’s Degree in Nursing at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. Once returning from abroad, Russi and Moti were married enjoying elaborate celebrations at the Colaba Agiary in Bombay in 1959. Russi was wholly devoted to his wife and championed her to pursue her career as a Professor and ultimately the Dean of the Nursing School in Bombay, where her credentials led to gaining employment at the University of Toronto Nursing School upon emigration from India in 1967. Mum and Dad chose Canada as she had visited in the late 1950’s, when visiting Toronto and found it a “lovely small city”. When they arrived in 1966, it was nothing but small, but a fast growing international metropolis. They were soon followed by one of Russi’s oldest and closest friend’s Navroze Chenoy, who initially stayed with them in a small apartment on Yonge Street, who promptly sufferred a slipped disc and was forced to lay on the floor of their apartment until health coverage kicked in! Their friendship spanned 7 decades and weathered all storms and every happy milestone. This is but one friendship that has spanned the decades. Russi was a fierce and loyal friend to, Sam Vesuna, Dr’s Jehangir and Maneck Kotawal, Dinshaw and Armaity Kanga, Roshan and Zal Contractor, Homi and Vili Homji, Naju and Russi Homavazir, Jamshed Jam , Dr. Tony and Ella Davis, Sanford and Danise Chandler, John and Jean Morgan, just to name but a very few, with many more who are not mentioned but not forgotten.

The family moved from a rental house on Rose Park Drive to the suburbs in1970. Willowdale was a growing suburb of Toronto, surrounded by farmers fields back then. The children enjoyed growing up in North York, making many new friends and also being able to grow up with their uncle Kawus and Hoshang Nanavati’s families, whom my parents also helped to settle in Canada.

In terms of what defines Russi the most, I believe it would be his service to others. He never stopped thinking of others, those being his family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. From his student days in India, Russi started his service work with the Lions Club of North Bombay in 1958. He and his friends were instrumental in starting up a community drop in medical centre, providing medical and dental services to the needy, in cooperation from UNICEF and CARE programs they also offered powdered milk to the children in the community.

In Canada from 1971-76, he provided voluntary services and supervised the work of dental students at the U of T evening dental clinic called SHOUT, providing services for inner city, low income residents. He was also active in the East York Community Care Access Centre, elected director in 1998, and if these obligations were not enough, he joined the Kiwanis International service organization upon invitation from a neighbour in North York and became a valued member of the Kiwanis Club of North York from 1971 for more than 40 years. He served as President of the club from 1975-76 and again from 1984-86. He was afforded the honour of becoming the Lt. Governor of Division 9 of the Eastern Canada and Caribbean District from 1995-96 International Branch and in 1996 received the prestigious award – the Mel Osborne Fellowship Award for his service contribution and dedication to the work and growth of the Kiwanis organization both locally and worldwide.His children remember participating in countless projects which Russi helped organized with his club. Many weekends were spent helping with the monthly travel log shows, polar golf tournaments, christmas tree and christmas cake sales and other hands on projects.His most beloved project was the Kiwanis Music Festival for which his personal commitment and dedication afforded him as a Lifetime Member of the Festival.

Apart from service to the local Toronto community, Russi and Moti both, were involved in the formative years of the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario (ZSO) starting in 1971. In those early years, the Society held its events in rented premises, especially those at the University of Toronto and Russi was always there to set up for these events. In 1977-78 Russi was elected President of the ZSO. It was a crucial time for the Society for this was when the late Arbab Rustom Guiv magnanamously provided funds to the ZSO to purchase a property. As President, Russi was directly involved in all the negotiations concerning the purchase of the property known as the Mehraban Guiv Darbe Mehr which now serves as the permanent home for the ZSO and its many community activities, from scouting events, sunday school, food fairs, healthy senior friday events, navjotes, weddings, jasans and other community celebrations and ceremonies. Since the purchase of the property, Russi took on the major responsibility of the Chair of the House and Garden Sub-Committee. He was responsible for the overall maintenance and upkeep of the property, with the most important task: the time of the Muktad ceremonies, he and his volunteers ensured the Dadgah room was clean and properly set-up. He took the lead in raising funds for the extension and setting up of the new Dadgah Prayer Room. He was responsible for the donation of the large Afargan and other prayer implements received from the N.M. Wadia Charities in Bombay, and donated the shipping expenses to bring these treasures to Toronto. He has also served since its inception in 1978, on the Board of the Rustom Guiv Foundation of Ontario (RGFO), which oversees the MGDM property, as a founding member, conducting his last annual board meeting as President from his wheelchair at his nursing home this past fall.Apart from his passion for the Darbe Meher property, he worked tirelessly to help all in the community, especially the Seniors, coordinating housing and obtaining appropriate placements for dozens of Seniors in nursing homes or homes for the aged. As difficulties in Iran began, Russi and Moti were involved in the humanitarian work of getting many Iranian refugees admitted to Canada. Once they arrived, they made sure they were fully supported by the community and suitably housed and prepared for their new lives in Canada.

Russi was very dedicated to his family, and before his own children came along, he would often be seen crowding his niece Tannaz and nephew Jim and the family Golden Retreiver in his tiny little car, zooming around Bandra with Sandy beaming out the window! When Moti’s brother Kawus’s inlaws Stan and Ena came from England to visit, Russi’s and his mother Khorshed hosted them in their Bandra home, going as far as to personally stir Stan’s tea! There are countless such special friends and family from around the world who felt this hospitality in his North York home, which fondly became known as Hotel Heathview! Another bonus when arriving in North York, was a new four legged member of the family. Our first family dog Siggy was another one of Russi’s joys, a huge animal lover, we enjoyed Siggy till he was a ripe old age of 16!

The impetus for emigration was to offer a better opportunities for their children Khorshed and Navroze, whom both became professionals; a Veterinary Doctor and Audiologist respectively. His daughter Khorshed was married to Darrin Tooth in 1991, on Oct 19, Russi’s birthday! It was made special by having an intimate ceremony at Hotel Heathview and the reception at the MGDM! It was a memorable wedding with guests from overseas and the United States coming to celebrate. Khorshed and Darrin went on to have 4 daughters, Zara, Emma, Aidan and Justine. Navroze was married to Andrea Torrey in and had a beautiful summer wedding on Moti’s birthday of July 7th, 1996 at the MGDM. Andrea brought to the family her daughter Katie and they went on to have a daughter of their own, Mehra, named after Moti’s mother.These six beautiful grand daughters were his absolute pride and joy. He was especially proud when he taught Zara, Emma, Aidan, Justine, Mehra and their cousin Camille all their Navjote prayers each weekend with the traditional ceremony being performed by 6 Zoroastrian priests in August of 2011.

Russi and Moti once “retired” were busier than ever with their many activities with longstanding service to the community. The couple earned the Government of Ontario Senior Achievement Award for significant voluntary service in 2003. In 2006 Russi received the Ralph O’Halloran Lifetime Achievement Award for 20 years of unwavering support and dedication to the North York Harvest Food Bank as well he was accorded the 35 year Legion of Honour for his membership and commitment to Kiwanis International and the Kiwanis Club of North York.

They decided to live with Khorshed’s family in their Beaches Apartment, able to be close to their beloved young grand daughters and while still healthy, having the flexibility to travel the world, visiting almost every continent especially where friends and family lived. In 2005 Moti suffered a massive stroke and to accommodate the new family dynamic, the extended family moved to a home on Markham Road.

Russi became caregiver in chief and devoted himself to Moti’s care while continuing to work part time and finding ways for them to travel abroad on cruises and other vacations all the while accommodating his disabled wife. The family dynamic worked with Grandpa and Grandma on the ground floor, and Khorshed’s young family above. The girls saw first hand Grandpa’s love and devotion to their Grandma and were always there to lend a helping hand. Grandpa Russi and Granny Moti were a big part of their grand daughter’s lives growing up, supporting them with their passion for dance, never missing a competition or recital.

His devotion to Moti’s care took a huge toll on his own health, but he was with her till the end, joining her in a joint room in a nursing home until she passed away in February of 2016. After Moti’s death, Russi was admitted to the Cummer Lodge Nursing home, where he remained active as always, lobbying for better food and services from the staff and administration.He continued attending activities at the MGDM and continued to serve on the RGFO board. He made several new friends at Cummer Lodge and enjoyed his excursions with them to the Mandarin and the local mall. He had a steady stream of dear friends and family who visited often and made the days he spent there happier. Last year was the most difficult, he suffered a broken hip in June of 2019, recovering but never regaining his health. He remained active and engaged and worrying about his family, especially his grand daughters during the current pandemic. He knew it was impossible to visit and we all had many conversations to keep his spirits up. He passed quickly in his sleep in the early morning of April 7, finally reunited with his beloved soulmate Moti.

The family would like to thank all his many dear friends and family who were his lifeline during the last few years, especially when he lost his beloved Moti. There are too many to name from all over the world, you meant the world to him and your love and kindness did not go unnoticed. They would also like to thank the wonderful staff at Cummer Lodge who he recently commended during the Covid-19 crisis on the extra care and attention he received this past difficult month. Russi lived a long and exemplary life, filled with contribution and service to others. He will be dearly missed by all he touched throughout his life. May he rest in eternal peace.

The family will have a celebration of life at a later date, they are accumulating a fund in Russi’s name for the benefit of the MGDM temple, please contact either Dr. Khor Balsara at kbalsara@rogers.com or Nav Balsara at nav_balsara@yahoo.ca for details.