JAKE EBERTS, BENG’62, DLITT’98 (1941-2012)

Fri, Sep 7, 2012

Alumni Networks, Alumni Update

JAKE EBERTS, BENG’62, DLITT’98 (1941-2012)

The McGill community is mourning the passing of Jake Eberts, perhaps Canada’s greatest film producer, and an extremely generous contributor to McGill University.

His family is requesting that donations in his honour go to the Eberts Family Fund, to support the First Peoples’ House at McGill. Contributions can be sent to McGill University, c/o Valerie Maurer, 1430 Peel St, Montreal, H3A 3T3. Donations can also be made online at https://www.alumni.mcgill.ca/give

McGill’s Daniel Levitin remembers the legendary producer and philanthropist.

Remembering Jake Eberts

It was my great privilege to know Jake Eberts and to be his friend. His death is especially difficult to accept because he was one of the most full-of-life people I’ve ever known. Jake approached everything he did with infectious enthusiasm, eagerness and passion. He was a natural leader because whatever he was doing at any moment looked like so much fun, everyone around him wanted to join in.

We had many adventures together. We went bowling. We went boating on the lake at his country house near Magog. We had dinner parties with his family. We went to the Sundance Film Festival together, where he was on the board (and, with his old friend Robert Redford, served as co-director of the festival). There, holding court at a table in one of the best restaurants in town, Jake would have 3 cell phones going at once (for calls from Europe, Canada, and the U.S.), working to accommodate the delicate balance of potentially clashing egos as top stars vied for seating and hotel rooms during the festival.

I remember three years ago, one Hollywood A-list couple decided just the day before the festival’s opening that they wanted to come, and their agent was on the phone with Jake to see if he could get them accommodations. Jake’s end of the conversation went like this:

“Of course we can find a room for them. We keep one reserved for just this kind of thing. I’ve got a room in the back of the hotel with a private elevator so that they can come and go as they please and no one will see them.”

I then heard a lot of high pitched jibber-jabber coming through the ear piece.

“Oh, I see,” Jake said. “Well that will be fine. So then, tell your clients that I’ll put them in the room closest to the elevator on the middle floor, and get them the table next to the Maitre D’s station in the restaurant.”

My facial expression must have conveyed puzzlement. Jake covered the mouthpiece and explained, “Everywhere they go they want to be seen in the act of trying very hard not to be seen. That way they can complain later that they are too famous to go out anywhere!”

He loved the family’s country house out near Magog. He was particularly proud of being able to make maple syrup from his own trees, and over the years turned the syrup making into a quasi-professional operation with a state-of-the-art facility. It was something to see: built into a wood cabin, it was all stainless steel tubes, gauges, steam vents, and vats. Every year he and his wife Fiona would make a batch of “Eberts Farms” maple syrup and send it to friends as gifts with their own hand-made label. In spite of having tapped every maple tree he could, the yield, after being boiled down, was only a few dozen bottles annually. Jake noted wryly that he couldn’t lay claim to making the best maple syrup, but at an estimated production cost of $800/bottle, it might well have been the world’s most expensive.

To those who knew him, he was a model of humility, kindness, and generosity. I always learned something every time I was with him. He was always active and described himself as having a very short span of attention. That short span of attention facilitated his career as a film producer, working on multiple projects in parallel – as soon as he got bored of one, he could move on to another.

Jake was also the most enthusiastic bassist I’ve ever played with. I was honored when he took the stage to play with me at my 50th birthday party. He played wrong notes and right notes with equal conviction and joy.

His spirit was larger than life itself and warmly enveloping. To spend time with him was like being inside a large bubble that surrounded him and anyone else nearby. The bubble felt warm, affectionate, safe and sturdy. That a small pinhole appeared in the bubble this week and took away that safety is hard to believe.

He loved McGill and was very proud of his McGill heritage. He was generous in his support of the university, not just financial, but by telling everyone he met what a fine education he felt he had received here. The interdisciplinary cross-talk that has always characterized McGill student life was of particular importance to him. “Where else,” he would say, “could an engineering undergrad acquire the education to become a filmmaker?”

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