I took this photo of Jack Layton and Olivia Chow during the Toronto Pride Parade this summer. Jack looked healthy and excited, waving vigorously at the cheering crowd.
That was July 3, 2011.
I never could have guessed, snapping that photo, that I was witnessing one of his final public appearances. When a hoarse and skeletal Jack announced his new cancer on July 25, the normally bustling newsroom at the CBC fell silent.
He said that he, like many other Canadians, was facing an advancing cancer. Despite the somber news, he walked in and out smiling, and held his head up high.
This morning, when I walked by a muted television at work, I saw a red-eyed Peter Mansbridge standing on set. Peter is never on the morning show. Before I even read the banner, I knew something was wrong.
Then the realization: Jack Layton is gone.
I instantly thought back to the beaming and energetic man I saw at Pride that day, and I wondered how everything could happen so quickly. I knew he had a tough road ahead of him, but I thought his strong spirit would keep defying odds and pull his weakening body along. If he could have, I know he would have kept his promise to lead the official opposition in September.
The most popular tweet going remains:
If everyone cared as much about Canada as Jack Layton did, we'd be a much better country. RIP.—
(@herohill) August 22, 2011
I agree. Today we lost a very decent man — one who deeply cared about Canada. He was proof that optimism need not fade with youth. That a loving and lasting partnership is possible. That generations can connect.
The word he used most in his last letter, as illustrated in the word cloud below, was BETTER.
Art director Stuart Thursby was so inspired by the text that he turned excerpts of it into free downloadable posters. Hundreds flocked to city hall and left messages of hope. Many posted the following mantra on social media:
Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.
This final message transcends partisan differences. Jack’s a man who held on to hope until his last day. As we bid him goodbye, we should take his words to heart — regardless of who we voted for.
We should always be trying to be better people, and better to each other … right down to our last breath.
Thanks, Jack, for being loving, hopeful, and optimistic. You will be greatly missed.
Jack Layton will have a state funeral, a rare honour announced late Monday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper exercised his discretion to offer the ceremony to Olivia Chow. It will take place on Saturday, August 27 in Toronto.
(If you can’t make the funeral, there are other ways to connect. Like this wonderful initiative just launched on Facebook: Acts of love, hope, and optimism in memory of Jack Layton)
Here’s one of mine: