Jack Layton’s Death: Cancer and Who Else Do You Pay Tribute To Today?

A few short months ago I stood in a room in London with supporters of the federal New Democrat Party awaiting Jack Layton’s arrival. The federal election campaign had just begun. It was April. The NDP were slow and steady at the start. Layton, a career politician, who was for many years a Toronto politician, was late on this particular night. The crowd was anxious, a somewhat ragtag bunch of students and seniors, visible minorities and young families, disabled people in scooters and wheelchairs. Middle aged working couples wearing jackets that declared their jobs. When Layton finally arrived, he stood filling up the doorway as someone announced him. He leaned slightly on a cane and moved a bit more stiffly than he had in past. He had clearly lost weight and yet he seemed full of energy. He had a way of emerging, walking proudly to the podium, leading with his chest even as his hip faltered still. The crowd cheered him on as they yelled: “We love you, Jack!” and they punctuated his speeches in all the right places. He lit the room up, even though he was so obviously still battling for his life.

 Today, Jack Layton lost his battle with cancer. I woke seeking out more information on the Goderich twister and discovered the sad news first on Twitter and then on CTV and CBC. Jack Layton was only 61. I didn’t know Jack Layton well, but I knew of him and I respected him for many reasons. He was a great speaker. He was married to a politician Olivia Chow. He was one half of a biracial couple. He was iconic as a Canadian and a Torontonian. He inspired people. He always seemed to champion the underdog and he never backed down from a fight. This morning even esteemed veteran political correspondent Craig Oliver fought back tears as he spoke by phone on television about the last time he spoke with Layton.

In this past election, Jack Layton ran the best campaign of his life. The NDP emerged as official opposition.
When the federal NDP leader came to London, the Conservatives had already made waves here. Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to town and his handlers screened everyone so aggressively at his London rally that many were turned away. A young woman was thrown out of the Conservative rally after security discovered a Facebook photo of her with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Harper has a small army of perhaps 800 to 1,000 supporters at the London event.

In stark contrast, Layton appeared at the same venue. Inside the Four Points Sheraton there was a small crowd of 300 to 400.  I was covering the election for the on line magazine called OurLondon.Ca. Many of the NDP worker bees like NDP MP Irene Matthyssen of London-Fanshawe ran hard the entire election. They played none of the ridiculous games that were being volleyed about by the other parties. In short, they showed up. They came to all of the panels, all of the roundtables, all the televised debates and they brought game. Nobody was instructed out of fear to stay away from a public all candidates meeting. And truly if anyone had a good excuse to opt out of a meeting with candidates it would have been a man who was fighting for his life and the life of his party. But he kept at it. I respect that. People in Canada, regardless of political stripe respect that.

This particular supporter summed it up for me when he told me: I don’t think Jack Layton even understands what an inspiration he has been to the disabled community.

A few seconds before I heard the news on Television, I read it on Twitter. Such is my lifestyle:  I wake to my news from twitter. I gain my headlines from my community of businesses and Moms and Dads on Twitter and Facebook. Then I seek out secondary sources of confirmation. During this last election Layton’s team embraced social media first and that was savvy. Layton even had an APP. My twitter feed filled up fast today with news of Layton’s death. It was big news for sure and somewhat unbelievable. We all wanted Layton to beat this. We all wanted him to win this battle. We all know 61 is too young to die.

This morning my children ran to get their piggybanks and emptied them for cancer research. I love that they think and act with their hearts. We can sit and have a cry and scream and rage. But in this family, we also act. My children knew Layton from TV because they followed the election with me as I covered it this past year. It was a great learning experience and today a tragedy that touches us all. In our family we know and have seen too much of this awful plague known as cancer. Today my children and I are saddened by Layton’s death. My kids are also reminded too thought that they have lost a grandmother and grandfather too soon to cancer. It is a battle fought by celebrities, politicians and neighbours. It takes our children, our fathers, mothers, husbands and wives, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, our friends, our foundation, our roots and sometimes our future. In this past decade I have watched an Uncle struggle bravely through multiple types of cancer. I have seen my Mother-in-law and Father-in-Law battle various cancers and eventually die of cancer. I have also seen a four-year-old child battle cancer with his entire family and win. Still, cancer has far too much power over all of us.

Today, we are all devastated and saddened and united in grief. We feel deeply for Layton’s family members.
Because 61 is too young. Because Layton was a great Canadian.
Because we can all too easily picture ourselves mourning our own loved ones.

Who else do you think of today and pay tribute to when reading or hearing of Jack Layton’s death?

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Skees

    Wonderfully written. I have a few people I pay tribute to as well. Lucky for me and their families they are still will us. These folks are my dad who was diagnosed 15 years ago and still going strong. My cousin’s wife who is just over 30 and has a cute little boy, my husband’s cousin who has tried everything but nothing seems to be working (she still comes to all the family events though) and lastly a good friend who is battling a second round of breast cancer while trying to raise two young children.

  • Anonymous

    A man isn’t measured by his height but how tall he stands for what he believes in,
    …you were a giant, Jack.