Ontario has lost a bright light among its legal fraternity and women’s leadership community with the recent passing of Stikeman Elliott LLP senior partner Alison Youngman.
Friends remember her as an eternally optimistic and humorous person who carved a niche for herself in corporate and commercial law, becoming creator and chairwoman of her firm’s technology and outsourcing group.
The best word to describe Youngman is “big,” says close friend Ann Medina.
“She went after life with an exhuberance; she wasn’t afraid of anything,” says Medina, a broadcaster. Youngman, 60, had a “big heart. We called her the Queen of Smiles. Big generosity, big giving to anyone around.”
Medina says Youngman’s accomplishments were not confined to one area of her life. “So often people have strength and achievements in a very defined circle, whether it’s their business life, or family life, or whatever,” she says, adding the two of them managed to share laughter until the end.
Medina says Youngman loved her career in the law, particularly the art of negotiation. She recalls that her friend continued to work even as she began battling her illness, despite her suggestions to rest.
“It’s partly just to keep focused on something other than her sickness,” says Medina. “But she said, ‘It just lifts me up - I love doing it.’”
Youngman was born in England, and left home as a teen with $200 and plans to see the world. Aged 19, she arrived in Montreal and landed a job as a paralegal for Stikeman Elliott in 1972.
After announcing plans to move on from that job, her mentor, Fraser Elliott, offered to sponsor her studies at Osgoode Hall Law School. She accepted Elliott’s challenge and, after graduating and having her first child in 1984, she returned to the firm. In 1986, she was called to the Ontario bar, and had her second child.
Youngman demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial spirit in launching Stikeman’s first marketing group and pushing the firm to adopt new technologies, even when many in the legal industry frowned upon it.
She later created the firm’s technology and outsourcing group. Her commitment to the profession was embodied by time served as co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association negotiated acquisitions committee task force on joint ventures, as a mentor to younger lawyers, and through published articles.
Youngman also took an active role in public life, focusing her efforts on the advancement of women’s interests. The YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto in 2004 named her a Woman of Distinction, and she was president of the International Women’s Forum of Canada.
She also served as chairwoman of the national board of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and led her firm’s participation in the CBCF-CIBC Run for the Cure.
Author Rona Maynard, who served on the IWF Canada executive with Youngman, says she embodied the story of women in these times.
“Like so many talented women of the baby boom generation, she didn’t have any particular ambitions when she started out, other than seeing the world and meeting new people and devouring experiences and having a good time,” she says.
“The way she got started was the way so many women got started, turning a nothing job into a launch pad because her curiosity and her great intellect and her zest stood out.”
Maynard adds it was “revolutionary” at the time for a woman like Youngman to have a child the same year as completing her law degree and being called to the bar.
“I find it very fitting, and also very sad, that she died on International Women’s Day, just as the light was breaking.”
Youngman died March 8 after a short battle with lung cancer. She is survived by her sons Chris and Phil Reineck, sister Jacky Hines, brothers Michael and Kevin Harrington, and cousin Shirley Youngman.