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Since I first heard of Jack Layton’s passing on Monday morning, I’ve been thinking about how I can possibly put all of my thoughts about this amazing leader, this amazing man, into coherent words for others to read. As a writer, I find it somewhat confusing that an abundance of thoughts has left me with writer’s block, but sometimes things don’t work out the way one hopes or expects.

When Jack announced that he would be taking a leave of absence on July 25, 2011 to focus on his upcoming cancer treatment, I hoped that he would be back in tip-top fighting shape come September, and, to be honest, I didn’t actually expect anything less either. Almost conversely, Jack was a man of hope, peace and joy, but he was also a fighter – fighting cancer, fighting injustice, and fighting for our country. I didn’t really have to hope that Jack would win this new battle, I practically took it as a given that he would. Truly, after the NDP gained a record number of seats in the May election and Jack became the leader of the country’s official opposition, I thought that nothing would be able to topple the man sitting on top of the world.

But completely unlike other leaders gaining a surge of power, Jack never let it go to his head. I know everyone’s already heard this said countless times, but it’s worth saying countless times more: Jack was a true man of the people, caring deeply about all of his constituents, from the youth, to the homeless, to the immigrants. I was fortunate enough to experience Jack’s considerate and caring nature a few times in the past few years, but my most unforgettable memory is of the first time we met. It was November 2008, and I was a publishing student at Centennial College working on a magazine writing assignment. As a newly arrived resident of Jack’s Toronto-Danforth riding, I sought to determine why that area was so traditionally left-leaning. And, through some very helpful friends and connections (thank you Chantal and Mike), I managed to get introduced to Jack at an Ontario NDP Youth conference, where he generously spent 10 minutes of his time sitting on a small, two-seater couch with me, talking my ear off about both the history and projected future of the Toronto-Danforth riding. Seriously, I think I got in about two questions in all of those 10 minutes. He was clearly so passionate about the subject and I admired him both for this passion, and for his interest in providing such amazing help to a student for an article that was only for a class assignment and wouldn’t even be published.

If I hadn’t been a Jack fan already (don’t worry, I totally was), I most definitely would have been after meeting him for the first time. While working on Joe Pantalone’s mayoral campaign last year, I was fortunate enough to meet Jack a few more times, as well as both his wife Olivia, and his son Mike. My heart goes out to his family right now, as well as all of Jack’s friends, fellow NDP-ers and fellow residents of the Toronto-Danforth riding. Ever since I moved to this riding three years ago, I’ve been beyond proud to tell everyone I know that I live in Jack’s riding, and you know what? I’m still so damn proud.

Me and Jack

P.S. Need to turn that frown upside down? Be sure to check out the Happy Layton blog for some fantastic photos of Jack’s fantastic, mustachioed smile.

Photo: Me on Election Night 2008, with a orange shirt, orange juice, and my Jack Layton pamphlet