On Friday, September 5, 2008, Toronto said goodby to Thomas Bata. In the afternnon, a service celebrating his life was was conducted at The Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventura in Toronto, filled with 600 participants including members of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, of which Mr. Bata was Honorary Colonel from 1999 to 2007.(During the war, he served as Captain in the Canadian Reseve Army). The service was attended by Canadian federal and provincial politicians and a 20 member delegation of the Czech government. The delegation was led by the deputy prime minister of the Czech republic and accompanied by the Czech Consul General in Toronto, Richard Krpac... In the afternoon Mr. Cunek laid a wreath at the monument to victims of Communism at Masaryktown and - at a reception following the church service - delivered a playful speech ( I believe that his grandfather has done some contract work for the Bata firm) at the Bata residence. After the reception he visited the St. Wenceslaus Church in Toronto, where he met representatives of the Czech community.
At the service tributes were paid to Thomas Bata by his son, Thomas G. Bata, family friends Frans van den Hoven and James D. Fleck, and granddaughter Alexandra Schmidt Weston: "He was a man whose admiration for our grandmother, Sonja, taught us that fairy tale romances do exist". His daughters, Christine Bata Schmidt and Rosemary Bata, read excerpts from the Book of Wisdom and daughter Monica Bata Pignal, from the 1st letter to the Corinthians. The Tokai Quartet performed Smetana's Vltava and Dvorak's American String Quartet, and members of the choir of St. Bonaventura sang Psalm 23,'The Lord is my Shepherd' and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.
Several dignitaries (including the Czech Deputy Prime Minister) delivered eulogies at the reception at the Bata residence. One of them, delivered (I believe) by a university professor, captivated us all. The speaker brilliantly recounted an episode with Thomas Bata: they were travelling by plane to Europe. Around 3:00 in the morning, the narrator was awakened by a woman's scream. When he opened his eyes, he saw Mr. Bata on his knees on the floor and a screaming woman, apparently misreading his intentions, beating him with a bag. Mr. Bata was looking for a lost part of his hearing aid...
Condolences and expressions of admiration were arriving from everywhere, beginning with president Vaclav Klaus and ending (or the other way around) with a former Bata employee:" When Thomas Bata died, we lost our father." That praise is not undeserved... Two months before his death I asked him to be one of the sponsors of an international conference on Czechoslovakia at the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto. In a few short days the university received a Sonja and Thomas Bata cheque. But what many of us valued most about Thomas Bata was his approachability, his Moravian geniality, his genuine folksiness, his obvious consciousness of common bond with the rest of humanity. Somehow he managed to remain one of us. Just one page in the Bata saga remains blank for me: what role in the building of the world's largest shoe empire was performed by Jan Bata.
Foto © Jan Rotbauer