Toronto volunteer helped start distress line
TORONTO — Bonnie Kates, who died Oct. 26 at age 62 of cancer, is remembered for always helping out.
Her husband, Michael, to whom she was married for 42 years, said that ever since the couple met at age 16 at BBYO, they’ve been involved in the community.
As a graduate of nursing school and a dental assistant for the City of Toronto for 33 years, Bonnie worked closely with people in her professional life, Michael said.
People were very important to her, he said. “She was bubbly and always made jokes. She had a serious side, though, and had no time for people who weren’t ‘real.’ With Bonnie, you knew you had the real thing.”
When she was volunteering at the Jewish Information Service of Greater Toronto, he said, she saw a need in the community and convinced UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to fund Tel-Aide, the Jewish Distress Line, becoming the only distress lines in Canada with a Jewish focus.
“When it was dropped because of funding cuts, Bonnie was upset and went ahead on her own and got some funding,” her husband said. “She received a donation so she could purchase office furniture, then she talked B’nai Brith Canada into giving them a room.
“She manned the phones, she trained other volunteers, and it ran for another 10 years because of her.”
Michael, who also volunteered for Tel-Aide, said that they had regulars who called in because they just needed someone to talk to. “Every call was written down and discussed.”
He said that after Tel-Aide closed, Kates became the first female member of B’nai Brith’s Forestdale Heights Lodge. “One member said he would quit if a woman joined, and Bonnie saw that as an opportunity. She went on to become president for a three-year term.”
Her work with the lodge included donating to women’s shelters, as well as organizing megillah readings for seniors, lodge outings and more, he said.
Marilyn Arkin, a friend who worked with Bonnie at Tel-Aide, called her warm, compassionate and non-judgmental. “She helped people see their way to solving their own problems.”
In his eulogy, Bonnie’s son, Marc, said that Jewish education was of paramount importance to her. “[My mother] often said that she had the choice of finishing our basement or sending us to Hebrew day school. She wore it as a badge of honour that her basement remains unfinished to this day.”
Humour was important to her, he said, and “she always saw the positive in life. She said that she lived her life with no regrets, and she handled her illness with dignity, poise and courage.”
Kates is survived by her husband Michael; children Marc and Rachel, and Lonny and Mitchell, and grandchildren Seth and Eve.