I’m truly sad that I never had the opportunity to meet Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, and now I never will.
That’s saying a lot about the guy, as he was a politician. In my field, most politicians come across as soundbite dropping machines. No matter how hard you pull and push and jiggle a question around, the answer 99.9 per cent of the time comes back as the party line or practiced banter and one-liners.
It’s easy to be cynical, and most politicians don’t do much to assuage that feeling.
The closest I ever came to meeting Jack was when he was out on a patio with Olivia Chow during Taste of the Danforth and I walked by—only realizing later who he was. Then there were a few moments from afar during Toronto Pride.
I wish I had a story to tell about meeting him like others do.
I lost my Uncle Bob to cancer earlier this year. When you have a dozen something aunts and uncles on one side of the family, plus spouses, they’re sometimes hard to keep track of. But Uncle Bob? He was awesome. He was pretty much the biggest Blue Jays fan ever, and a proud member of the “Fountain Family Outlaws” (as opposed to in-laws). He was one of the “grown-ups” who actually would talk and interact with us young ‘uns.
Being a few thousand miles away from home, it was rough not being able to visit and to only hear updates over the phone on how he was doing while in the hospital. To not be able to be home for the funeral.
It took a lot to not start bawling my eyes out at work when I read my cousin’s post following Jack’s death this morning:
” … When my Dad was first hospitalized with Cancer I ran into Jack downtown and asked him if he’d call Dad in the hospital. Jack was supposed to be going up on stage to do his politician thing but that didn’t matter, he said “Let’s do it right now, Ken” and he did.
I remember Jack saying over and over “No, really Bob, it’s Jack Layton” He said “I’m here at Dundas Square with your family. Hey, we both have Olivia’s in our lives” He talked at length with Dad about the prognosis and encouraging him.
At one point his aide starting urging him to get up to the stage and Jack said “When I’m finished, I’m talking to Bob” At that moment it was Dad that mattered to Jack.
So, I just know that when Jack enters those Pearly Gates my Dad will be there to greet him. They both died of the same horrible disease only months apart.
R.I .P Jack and Dad. I gotta go wipe some tears now.”
It took a visit to the hospital by my cousin, complete with photos of Jack to convince my uncle that it really was Jack who had spoken to him on the phone. As we’re a family of jokesters, I can’t blame him for being skeptical.
My friend Andrew also has a similar memory of Layton, from a random meeting in Toronto where they both observed a seagull poop on a statue of Churchill:
I pointed at the statue and said, “In your line of work, you must be pretty used to that.”
Jack smiled. “Well, it’s like any other job. There are good days and there are bad days. Churchill had those days, too, but he rarely ever complained about them. You fight the good fight and sometimes it doesn’t always work out. You just have to stay strong.”
Andrew has also struggled with cancer, and plenty of other not-so-awesome things in life. Between him, me and some other friends, it’s been a battle to make things well for him. Again, it’s especially hard when I’m a few thousand miles away.
So thank you, Jack. Thank you for these little things.