Getting to Know Jack

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jul 26, 2011

Had the opportunity to read a fascinating biography of federal NDP leader Jack Layton over the weekend.  I happened to be looking for something to read, and there it was.  What an interesting man.  Politics not only runs through his veins, but streams through the DNA of generations of his family (and friends for that matter).

Watching the news last night, it was truly shocking to learn of his fresh battle with a new cancer.  As he addressed the media to share this startling news, with his wife of over 20 years, Olivia Chow by his side — one could not help but be taken aback by his gaunt, frail appearance and the noticeable change in his voice.  What a stunning change.

This is a man who in the span of just a few months demonstrated on a national stage a rarely-seen courage (especially by a politician).  He fought battles left and right — prostate cancer, a broken hip, naysayers, his party’s recent weak history.

The image of Layton hobbling along the campaign trail with a cane, seemingly tireless, is seared into the minds of many voters, regardless of their political stripes.

What was absolutely striking in reading about Layton’s life was the importance and impact of his family on just about everything he has done and continues to do.  From his great-grandparents right through to his grand-daughter, his family truly formed his foundation and he never fails to recognize that.  Something to be admired.

By all accounts, Layton enjoyed a wonderful, memorable childhood — an affluent upbringing — but you would never  know it.  His mantra of “fighting for the little guy” came early and remains a cornerstone of his political platform — through his school, local, municipal, and federal government roles.  Also to be commended.

Putting family first is not automatic for many people, for a variety of reasons, and I would argue even less so in the all-consuming, pressure-cooker world of public office.  People have no idea just how all-encompassing that commitment is.  Few of us have the courage and moral compass to take it on.  Regardless of society’s general disdain for politicians that remains, it is something to marvel at.  Layton’s entire life has been spent in the political arena making the breadth and depth of his sacrifice that much larger.

Jack LaytonAmong several interesting perspectives in his biography was one by his sister who admitted she is always upset by those people who don’t believe that her brother is  exactly as advertised — upbeat, optimistic, always smiling.

As he bravely moves forward to face a new enemy, Layton’s family will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of his recovery.

He seems to practice what he preaches.  Definitely refreshing.  More so because of his pressure-cooker role.

Let’s hope Jack Layton has stamina left to vanquish this new cancer and that his family is where it has always been — right by his side.

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