Monday, August 22, 2011
Goodbye, Jack :(
Jack Layton died today from cancer at the too-young age of 61 -- and all across Canada, people of all political stripes are sharing their sadness. (Mohammar Gaddhafi who?)
For those of you outside Canada, Jack Layton was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) -- left-wing/socialist in leaning and perennially in third place behind the Liberals and Conservatives.
Until the election earlier this spring, when Layton led his party into second place, thanks to a breakthrough in his home province in Quebec, which gave the party enough seats to become the Official Opposition. It was a great triumph. Even people who would never vote NDP voted him the leader they'd most like to sit down with over a beer.
He had recently battled prostate cancer -- the same disease that killed his father (also a politician) -- campaigned with a pronounced limp and walked with a cane -- yet nothing seemed to slow him down, nor erase the smile from his face.
That's why it was such a shock when, only a month ago, he showed up at a news conference looking pale and gaunt, announcing that he was taking a leave of absence to battle a new cancer. He said he was looking forward to leading his caucus when Parliament resumed in September. I was on vacation at my parents' house and saw the press conference live. We all gasped when we saw him. We knew it didn't look good, but I don't think anyone expected that he would be gone just a few weeks later.
Before he went into federal politics, Jack Layton -- although born & raised in Quebec -- was a very well known municipal politician in Toronto. He never saw a TV camera or a microphone he didn't love. I used to see him now & then as we walked through Union Station in the morning, en route to work, promoting one of his pet causes -- for example, handing out white ribbons on Dec. 6th to show his support for stopping violence against women. Dh & I would both roll our eyes. (ETA: not because of the cause itself, but "there's Jack, at it again.") But like many other Canadians in recent years, he won our respect and our affection (if not our votes) with his determination, his cheerfulness, and his dedication to his principles.
Tonight, I'm thinking about his wife, fellow member of Parliament and constant companion, Olivia Chow. Whatever you thought about their politics, there was no doubt they absolutely adored each other. They went everywhere together, even rode a bicycle built for two. They didn't have any children together (although Jack had two adult children from his first marriage, and a granddaughter, Beatrice, whom he adored). They kind of reminded me of another couple I know. ; )
Before he died, he wrote a letter that he gave to Olivia to be released in the event of his death. Its closing words read:
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."