Padraig “Paud” (pronounced “Podge”) O’Donoghue, principal architect of the modern Yukon legal system, died on May 17. He was 87.
In 1967, the Yukon was just starting to experiment with self-government. Overwhelmed officials, wrist-deep in new legislation, decided to send for the Yukon’s first territorially appointed legal adviser.
At their doorstep appeared O’Donoghue, a 46-year-old Irish legal veteran. In tow were his wife and seven children.
“He was different, he was Paud O’Donoghue,” said Jimmy Smith, former territorial commissioner.
Only five years before, O’Donoghue had completed his tenure in the British colonial legal service where, among other things, he helped ease Somalia into independence. By 1960, O’Donoghue had risen to become attorney general of the British protectorate.
Most former colleagues are quick to note that O’Donoghue was very Irish, with characteristic speech and mannerisms that unmistakably echoed the Emerald Isle.
The lawyer’s joviality and exuberance cradled a deep kindness and respect.
“He was easy to talk to, a lot of people would bring their worries and problems to him and he always had the right thing to say,” said Cumming.
“At the bottom, he was a human individual and didn’t crack the whip at everything, but tried to get through things without going to court,” said Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale.
O’Donoghue commanded his office with a steady hand and an abhorrence of bureaucracy.
“There was nothing quite like it in the government,” said Patricia Cumming, O’Donoghue’s former secretary.
He was one of those guys where, as minister, you didn’t phone Paud and say, ‘can you come over to my office?’—you went over to his office,” said Doug Graham, the territory’s first minister of justice.
“He was our legal department,” said Graham.
“He was the architect of the beginning of the legal system in the Yukon,” said Yukon businessman Rolf Hougen.
“If there wasn’t a law, I think Paud made it up, but we got through—everything worked,” said Yukon senator Dan Lang, who served on the territory’s executive council.
Occasionally, East African statutes and judgements would wrangle their way into O’Donoghue’s legal arguments—much to the chagrin of judges.
O’Donoghue’s vast global network of legal contacts ensured that Yukon legislation received top counsel.
“He seemed to know every single senior legal person in Canada,” said Graham.
If O’Donoghue ever ran into difficulties while drafting legislation, he would simply turn to his Rolodex, call the “chief justice of a country somewhere,” and get the answer, said Graham.
O’Donoghue’s stamp still graces many of the territory’s key documents, including the Yukon Child Welfare Act and a swath of modern statutes covering everything from animal protection to expropriations.
The young territory had no draftsman on the payroll, meaning that all legislation came into being under O’Donoghue’s own hand.
The O’Donoghue household became a key focal point of hospitality for visiting federal officials.
O’Donoghue’s children still remember dining with future prime minister John Turner. As justice minister, it was Turner who would award O’Donoghue the title of Queen’s Counsel.
O’Donoghue maintained a lifelong devotion to the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary knew him as a regular correspondent, receiving frequent notifications of overlooked words. Among others, the word ‘rasher’—a thin slice of fried or broiled bacon—owes its standing in the Oxford dictionary to O’Donoghue.
In Whitehorse, O’Donoghue soon struck up a friendship with Ted Harrison, another former resident of Mogadishu. When the O’Donoghue’s moved to Riverdale in the early 1970s, Harrison adopted their new home as his latest canvas. For years, the home’s prominent Harrison murals were a favourite of passing tour buses.
At age 60, O’Donoghue himself took up the brush.
“His first portrait was of me as the first minister of justice for the Yukon—I still have it in my house,” said Graham.
Dozens of Yukon homes still count an O’Donoghue original in their collection. A prolific portraitist, O’Donoghue soon took to recreating scenes from his life in East Africa, Ireland and Canada.
After suffering two heart attacks in a month, O’Donoghue stepped down, stating that he could not resume the stressful duties of a deputy minister.
He and Joan moved to Vancouver, where retirement became anything but idle.
The Vancouver movie industry was just starting to take flight, and a growing demand for movie extras soon called to the retirees. The couple appeared in episodes of MacGyver, 21 Jump Street and Wise Guy, and films starring Ted Danson and John Travolta.
In 1989, O’Donoghue sent a sharply worded letter to the Canadian minister of immigration, decrying the country’s appalling backlog of refugee claimants. The minister responded with a terse job offer as a refugee hearing officer—which O’Donoghue immediately accepted.
“One thing about Paud: every day was a new day, he knew how to live life,” said Lang.
O’Donoghue is survived by his wife Joan, his daughters Elizabeth, Patch and Fiona, and sons Rory, Padraig and David.
Contact Tristin Hopper at