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.”
You don’t know me. But – like many people – I know you.
We’ve actually met, albeit in a professional capacity – you, speaking out on an issue you felt strongly about (as the exuberant leader of a political, party trying to make a dent in the political landscape); me, as a young ‘un in the TV news business, doing my job in getting your reaction to whatever story I happened to be helping with.
I remember once having to escort you to an interview. And as we strode down the hall (and I think using “stride” is appropriate; you weren’t a “walker”), I tried to engage you in small talk – pertinent to the subject which brought you to the building, of course. And you engaged me right back.
Whenever I remember that short encounter, I’ve always assumed you were just humouring me. Most of the guests I’ve had to handle or interview, do. But given all the things I’ve heard people say about you over the last five days, I’ve thought about that instance often, and I wondered if maybe you weren’t. Maybe you WERE actually talking TO me.
And on a handful of occasions, I was sent on assignments, to go to your news conferences and small scrums, and ask you questions. Even when you were just doing what you did best, you obliged, with that trademark energy, looking all of us dead in the eye with every answer. Every so often, I could have sworn I saw your eyes twinkle.
For the longest time, I seriously thought, that can’t be real all the time – that’s gotta be just showmanship.
Apparently it wasn’t. It was ALL you.
There was one time – possibly the last time, months and months ago – I got to interview you on a reporter’s behalf. Near the end, you asked me how much longer it would take; you had an appointment to get to. I was taken slightly aback, because it seemed a bit uncharacteristic. But you weren’t rude about it. I figured you had a function to get to.
Maybe it was just that. Or it was a foreshadowing of the personal battle that was to come.
I think my respect for you blossomed into full-blown admiration while watching you on the campaign trail this past April. It was hard NOT to watch you win over parts of Canada, one stump speech or walkabout at a time. And I’m sure the reporters following you loved getting the chance to do so.
And on election night, as I watched the results from home, I felt the goosebumps on my arms as history was made before my eyes. I actually couldn’t believe it! And I was genuinely happy for you, Olivia and your party. FINALLY.
You’ve been such a fixture, it’s difficult to comprehend that you physically are no longer here. I realize that death is a part of life. But it’s still surreal.
I know a lot of people – yourself included – did not believe your work was done.
But perhaps this was it. This was your two-fold masterpiece: to punch, not dent, a hole in the Canadian political establishment; and to inspire young people (by whom you were inspired) to answer the call to service that you answered a few decades ago.
What has personally moved me more than your contribution to federal politics, has been the number of anecdotes from people with whom you’ve worked, whom you’ve helped, or who you’ve taught.
I never had the chance to pay you my final respects at City Hall. I never got to leave my thoughts in chalk at Nathan Phillips Square. And sadly, I won’t get to witness your funeral in real time. As it happens, I’ll be at a wedding. (I’m sure you’d understand.) But I’m sure it’ll be big and grand, with many a tear shed, but also a few laughs and a lot of music.
And when the pomp and ceremony is over, when your ashes are spread, and when your family and friends get a chance to privately mourn and heal, I truly hope for a couple of things emerge from your passing:
First, that all of us who respect you and your vision pick up where you left off, and continue striving towards what you wanted – for this city, and for this country, in all sorts of ways. I know here in Toronto, the election of this present City Council has angered and energized people enough to take an interest in city affairs. I hope we can find a way to expand upon that.
Secondly, that in your death, we can see the lessons you left behind. You were a professor, right? Did you ever stop being one? Perhaps people already see that. At least, I hope that people see that. And I hope we can apply those lessons to our lives and the lives of those around us.
Goodbye, sir. I hope that wherever your spirit is now perched, it’s a good place.
And I hope we don’t let you down.
*Editorial cartoon, courtesy Patrick Corrigan, for the Toronto Star.