Late Chris Kobrak.
The death occurred in Paris recently of one of the world’s most imminent and respected economists and business historians. Chris Kobrak was a larger than life personality with a wonderful back history but most of all, he was fiercely proud of his Longford town connections.
He was a remarkable academic and was unique in that his huge volume of work and knowledge was widely respected across North America and also Europe.
His death came as a great shock to his peers just short of his 67th birthday. Chris was internationally prominent in business history. He took the lead in developing the Canadian Business History Association with Mark Bonham and he was also a popular visiting professor at the prestigious Rotman University.
He was the Chair of Canadian Business & Financial History and also on the board of the European Business History Association, and served as a trustee of the Business History Conference, 2007-10.
e worked on the BHC Finance Committee, 2010-2013 and was serving on the BHC's Hagley Prize Committee at the time of his death.
The academic’s mother was Madge Walsh, originally from Killashee Street, Longford town, where the family had a well known bakery business for many years. During the 1940s she emigrated to the States along with her sister, Christina.
His father meanwhile was a German national, who barely made it out of Germany in the late 1930s when so many other German Jewish families did not. He grew up speaking German in spite of his father's distasteful experience and given his uniquely Irish-German background, it was no wonder that he was drawn toward Irish and German history in general.
His mother spent several decades in the States before taking her first trip home but that didn’t stop her fostering a fantastic appreciation in her son of her home town and its people. Chris was a regular visitor to the town since he was 17 years of age and regularly stayed with his mother’s cousin, Johnny Nevin of Nevin’s Taxis.
His family history bridged both the Old and New Worlds with links to Germany and Ireland. He delighted in the spirit of entrepreneurship that ran deep in the Ireland where his mother had grown up. He delighted in the sense of opportunity but also the passion, commitment and determination of a people who had so often fought against the odds. It was a theme that he would constantly refer to in his huge body of academic work.
One of the connections he was most proud of was that his family tree reached back to Edward Lasker, the Jewish liberal who was a thorn in the side of the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Lasker also blew the whistle on the many scandals following the 1873 financial crash in Germany. Chris used to say that his own interest in corporate ethics, banking/finance, and financial crashes had family roots not only in Germany but also a rural Ireland, where your word was your bond.
A gregarious man who enjoyed company, top wine or a quality pint he found himself at home and at ease on his visits to Longford town and news of his sad passing came as a shock to the many who knew him locally. Johnny Nevin and his wife, Evelyn, travelled to Paris for the funeral and were amazed to see how prominently Longford town had featured in his life. Another relative still living in Longford town would be Frank Walsh.
Those who met Chris on his visits here remember him as an engaging character. Ideas were something to pour over, discuss, bounce off of someone else, something to figure out further, develop nuances or hone further in conversation in a social circle, among friends or potential new friends.
It was all part of a unique outlook on life that helped create a truly inspiring academic. For him, ideas were social, not sterile things written on a page. The late Chris Kobrak died suddenly on January 9 this year and he will be remembered fondly in Longford town.