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'He was just a delight': Remembering Selwyn Romilly, B.C.'s first Black judge, dead at 83

Selwyn Romilly, the first Black person appointed to provincial court in British Columbia, and later the B.C. Supreme Court, died on Friday. He was 83.

Tributes are now pouring in from colleagues in the legal profession, remembering Romilly as both a trailblazer and an exceptional human being.

“Breaking barriers was one of his claims to fame, but it wasn’t by any means the only one,” said Carol Baird Ellan, a retired provincial court judge who served as chief judge from 2000 to 2005.

She told CTV News Romilly was very personable, always going out of his way to say hello to colleagues and would recall anecdotes about the cases they were working on.

“He was legendary in that regard,” Baird Ellan said.

“He was just a delight,” she added. “He was always smiling. He was generous with both his intellect and his wit. He wasn’t shy of making the odd joke in court.”

Baird Ellan remembers Romilly as someone who was generous with his time, serving as a mentor for fellow Black lawyers.

But she notes the term mentor doesn’t quite capture the whole picture. “He was a friend to the profession and an inspiration to younger lawyers,” Baird Ellan said. “He served as a role model and inspiration to people of colour coming behind him.”

According to Romilly’s biography by the BC Black History Awareness Society, he was born in Trinidad and immigrated to Canada, where he attended the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law and graduated in 1966.

According to UBC, he was the fourth Black law student in the school’s history, and the first to graduate. He also met his wife Lorna at UBC.

Romilly worked as a lawyer in Smithers, B.C., before being appointed to the B.C. Provincial Court in 1974, becoming the province’s first Black judge.

He was then appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in 1995, again becoming the first Black Supreme Court Justice in the province.

He retired in 2015, after collecting numerous awards and accolades over the course of his career.

“He will be sorely missed by everyone in the profession,” Baird Ellan said.

Romilly is survived by his wife and two children.

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