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CGCA lifetime achievement winner Sigurdson remembered as accomplished, humble

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 3:50 PM | By Paula Kulig

Stephen Sigurdson, who was recently honoured posthumously for lifetime achievement at the Canadian General Counsel Awards, was a highly respected, accomplished lawyer who is perhaps best remembered for his humility, generosity and love of family, says his friend and colleague Martin Guest.

Stephen Sigurdson

Stephen Sigurdson

Sigurdson, who was executive vice-president and general counsel at Manulife until his death last November, was a former partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP who died after suffering cardiac arrest at the age of 56. He left behind his wife, Leslie, and four daughters. Leslie accepted the award, which has been renamed the BLG Stephen Sigurdson Lifetime Achievement Award, at a ceremony in Toronto.

Guest, who is senior vice-president and general counsel for Canada at Manulife, said in an interview that he first met Sigurdson in the early 1990s when they were both at Osler.

"We worked on a couple of files together, which is how I first experienced Steve’s blend of strong legal skills, detailed technical knowledge and unflappable demeanour," he said. “But Steve was much more than just a great lawyer. ... He taught me a lot about the law and about Manulife, but equally he provided insights and lessons about life. He was a very devoted husband and father who set a great example to all of us in terms of balance and priorities in life."

Sigurdson was born in Morden, Man., and graduated with a law degree from Queen’s University in 1984. He continued his association with the law school by becoming a member of the Queen’s Law Dean’s Council.

He joined Osler in 1989 as an associate and developed a corporate practice focusing on mergers and acquisitions. He was managing partner of the firm’s New York office for four years, managing partner in Toronto and chair of Osler’s business law department. In 2010, he joined Manulife as general counsel Canada and four years later became general counsel.

Manulife was one of Sigurdson’s clients while he was at Osler, noted Guest. “The thing that I believe made Steve almost uniquely well suited to the job was that he had specific experience with Manulife, he had top-level legal practice skills and he had the leadership experience to manage a large group,” he said of Sigurdson’s move to Manulife. “There was probably no one else in the country who had that combination of skills and experience."

Despite his success, Guest said Sigurdson “brought a note of humility and a lack of pretense to everything he did,” and that would have been evident if he had been able to accept the lifetime achievement award.

"I think Steve would have recognized the significance of the award and he would have been honoured by it, but I suspect he would also have felt that it came too early in his career and that there were others who were equally, or even more, deserving,” he said.

"Although Steve received his share of honours, he was never one to seek out individual plaudits and his personal humility prevented him from blowing his own horn or calling out his accomplishments. If he’d made an acceptance speech, I’d expect it would have been brief, thoughtful, humble, a little bit humorous and very gracious,” he added.