Remembered as the man who “never gave up on anything,” Catherine Bell recalls Jack Layton as a friend and mentor who was unlike any other leader she met.
Bell, a former Vancouver Island North NDP MP and three-time candidate, said Tuesday the federal NDP leader who died at his Toronto home early Monday morning was “a dynamic person, who was personal and engaging. Jack was who he was; he didn’t put on any airs.”
Bell remembers first meeting Layton — who most recently dropped by her Zocalo Café and Gallery for a coffee during his election stop in the Valley in April — when he was running for federal leader in 2003.
“I met (his wife) Olivia (Chow) at a conference, and knew about Jack. He was very engaging,” she added.
She recalls Layton’s various visits to the Comox Valley, particularly spending time with the leader at Vancouver Island MusicFest.
“I remember we walked around and talked to people in the crowd. He was there to listen to music, have a good time and talk. He even sat down and talked with people in the beer garden,” she recalls. “He really loved music, he always had his iPod and played piano and guitar really well.”
After winning the federal seat in 2006, Bell said Layton assigned her as the NDP critic for natural resources.
“He came up to me and asked, ‘What would you like to do?’ rather than saying, “This is how it goes,” she said. “He made me feel very comfortable. I would text him on his Blackberry and he respond so quickly whenever I had questions.”
As his campaign manager while running for leadership of the federal party in 2002/2003, Glen Sanford recalls a particular conversation with Layton from his home in Fanny Bay.
“I knew he was a Toronto city councillor, and I was a little bit skeptical (of him) at the time. It was a 45-minute phone call, and at the end of the conversation, I was managing his leadership campaign for B.C.,” he said.
Sanford said he instantly liked the leader after a failed attempt to pick up Layton at the Vancouver airport in style.
“I made arrangements to pick him up in a nice car but it fell through at the last minute, and drove down in a 1982 Toyota beater that I didn’t even have a chance to clean up. I was thinking what an impression this would make but he took it all in great stride. I knew I liked him right away,” he added.
Like Bell, some of his favourite memories of Layton are those which took place in the Comox Valley.
“He wanted to vacation on Vancouver Island North, and my partner and I were going away and I needed a cat sitter. He and Olivia stayed at our house in Fanny Bay and did a great job,” he said. “He was supposed to be relaxing but I found out he was visiting with local businesses and having dinner parties. The neighbours were impressed swimming in the ocean with Jack and Olivia.”
Despite the sense of loss, Sanford said people in the Comox Valley should be proud of how often the leader visited the area.
“I’m dreadfully sad … but regardless of political affiliation, there is a strong legacy of hope while we grieve, and we have to ensure to not let it stop us on keeping our eye on what Jack stood for — what we can all stand for,” he added.
A book of condolences is available to sign at the Zocalo Café and Gallery in downtown courtenay, which will be forwarded to the Layton family.
The NDP Vancouver Island North Riding Association is hosting an event at the Filberg Centre this Saturday to coincide with the televised state funeral. The live broadcast will be projected on a screen along with coffee and snacks available and there will be a book of condolences to sign.
Doors open at 10:30 a.m., and people are encouraged to bring stories and share thoughts.