Howard B. Ripstein (1923-2004) was an Associate Professor of Accounting at Concordia University. A veteran of World War II, he was still teaching when I arrived at Concordia in 1987. Like my father, Howard had flown bombers. Unlike my father, he didn’t get shot down. Also unlike my father, who was 22 when entering active service, Howard entered the war as a teenager. Born in 1923, he was one year younger than my father.
Following the war, Howard obtained his designation as a Chartered Accountant, as well as an M.B.A. from Queen’s University, at time when M.B.A. degrees were not that common. He never entered a doctoral program, and was a professor at a time when, at least in many university accounting programs, teaching expertise was valued over research activity or output.
Until the late 1970s or early 1980s in Canada, there were many like Howard B. Ripstein, at least on the surface: no doctorate, and focusing on teaching. There were few who were like Howard B. Ripstein in substance, fiercely devoted to his students and to their professional success after graduation. There are many Chartered Accountants in Montreal today who owe their careers to Howard, in terms of encouragement in the face of setbacks, as well as in terms of making the calls that were sometimes needed to enable serious consideration to be given to a prospective Chartered Accountant-in-training.
As an instructor, he was known among generations of students as The Ripper, the instructor with fiercely high standards, who showed no mercy. This was a persona he played to; the reality was much different.
Howard was more senior than all of us when it came to teaching. He came from a time when there was a functioning and profitable faculty club at the then Loyola College, before the merger with Sir George Williams to become Concordia. He came from the glory days of Loyola College as a separate institution, which he was dearly attached to.
At Concordia in the 1980s, particularly on the Loyola campus, the classes were generally quite small, as much because the classrooms could often not hold more than 40 or so students. Whereas in other universities the same course might have one or two sections, at Concordia it was common for an intermediate accounting course to have five or more sections.
I was the largely absentee doctoral student course coordinator for some courses that Howard was teaching with others. We generally marked as a group, on the weekends. While it was efficient in terms of getting marking completed across sections, it was also convenient for me, given my necessary focus on doctoral studies in Toronto. Howard supported this focus; I thanked him in my doctoral dissertation acknowledgements, describing him as “now regrettably retired”.
During one marking session just before Christmas, Howard noticed that I gobbled caffeine pills. This was my approach to working, rather than sleeping, on the Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Voyageur bus tourpass route I was on, trying to balance doctoral studies in Toronto being financed out of Montreal, while my family remained in Ottawa. A situation continuing for five years, 1987-1992.
“Give me some of those,” Howard says. Trip to U.S. coming up. When he was back, his only comment was “Got me all the way to Pennsylvania. Thanks.” Smiled.
Another marking session was less convivial. A significant area in financial accounting had changed over the past year or so, and all of us were having to revise teaching approaches to the area. During the course of marking, certain instructors would be assigned to mark the same question across sections. In terms of the question on this changed area of accounting, Howard wasn’t the one who was going to be marking the question across sections. As the marking started, Howard looked down, and quietly spoke about how he felt that he had not taught the area as well as he would have preferred. He knew how good he could be and when he was not. “I don’t want my students hurt,” he quietly said.
This was The Ripper speaking. This was the one who had influenced the careers of perhaps the majority of the leading accounting professionals in 1980s Montreal. Saying without saying that he didn’t have it this time, and that he wanted his students to be protected. Saying without saying that these are MY students, not yours, and I am accountable for and dedicated to their futures in ways that you can never appreciate, because you weren’t teaching here thirty years ago.
His students were not hurt.
Howard B. Ripstein retired after the 1990-1991 academic year. In the fall of 1991, I encountered him on the first day of class, in the main entrance to the Loyola Building. He looked benign, at peace. He smiled. Watched the students passing by him to go to class. No words were spoken, but I could still hear his words as they passed by:
I am here still, and so are you.
You protected me, and I protected you. Always.
Postscript, July 21, 2014: Just discovered that in 2003, one year before he died, Howard was granted his own Coat of Arms. From the citation:
Red and white are the colours of Canada. The chevron division refers to the mountain of Montreal, and, as Mr. Ripstein’s grandfather Berlind was a builder, it refers to housing and buildings. The wings refer to Mr. Ripstein’s service in the R.C.A.F. and his continuing work for Air Force heritage. The Magen David refers to his strong identification with his Jewish faith and heritage.
The barrel makes a reference to Mr. Ripstein’s grandfather, who was a bootlegger and contemporary of the Bronfmans in the 1920s. The armadillo is a reference to armour and thus the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. The fleur-de-lis refers to Mr. Ripstein’s native province of Quebec.
A phrase meaning “Audacity on the wings of fire”.
The gold disc resembles a coin, and thus refers to Mr. Ripstein’s career as an accountant. The open book alludes to the fact that he taught commerce at Concordia University, the University of Toronto, Loyola College, and the University of Windsor for over 25 years. The wings repeat the symbolism from the shield.