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Thursday October 6, 2016

Shimon Peres

He was almost 92 years old when I met him at his elegant office, perched next to a Mediterranean beach on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was March, 2015, and I was there to interview Shimon Peres about whisky baron Sam Bronfman and his son Charles, whom I had been working with on his memoir. Mr. Peres had met Charles's father in the 1950s while trying to buy arms for the fledgling state.

Before I could ask anything, Mr. Peres began asking me questions. Where was I from and how had I ended up working with his dear friend Charles?

I told him I was from Halifax and he began talking about Canada. He said that not long after Israel was founded in 1948, he spent time in Goose Bay where coincidentally I had worked at the CBC early in my career.

There I was, with the former president and prime minister of Israel, reminiscing about Goose Bay.

Mr. Peres had quite a story. The Israelis had bought surplus war planes from the Americans and Israeli pilots were flying a Mosquito from the U.S. to Israel. The plane disappeared over Labrador.

Mr. Peres told me he called the head of the nascent Israeli airline, El Al, and asked to borrow a plane for a rescue team. El Al had just two aircraft at the time and Mr. Peres was asking for half the fleet. But he got the loan - a Lockheed Super Constellation - and spent several days around Goose Bay, working with Inuit, who assisted in the search. They never found the crew.

Although we met a few months before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2015 election victory, Mr. Peres knew of him, having worked with his father.

He also recalled hours of conversation with René Lévesque, the late separatist premier of Quebec. His ability to recount details from decades ago was undiminished.

In all, I got 75 minutes. When my time was up, his assistant, Yona, knocked on the door. She took a photograph of us and I left. In the outer office, I retrieved my luggage and prepared to leave. Like a kindly grandfather, Mr. Peres came out to check on me, making sure I was okay, asking whether I needed help.

- Howard Green, Toronto (Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball and Philanthropy, by Charles Bronfman with Howard Green, will be released by HarperCollins on Oct. 25.)

Associated Graphic

Shimon Peres, right.

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