Jack Layton: The Smiling Warrior

Rex Murphy presents a tribute to the late Jack Layton.

Rex Murphy presents a tribute to the late Jack Layton.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Marathoners of every kind might want to look at Jack Layton’s last great run.

Not many people leave a hospital room, having faced-off with cancer, get smacked with a broken hip, just to make things even a little more tricky – launch into a national election, as a leader of a fractious and volatile party – and then turn in the most energetic, most attractive, most brave campaign of anyone – leader or follower – ever.

Good thing for his opponents Jack wasn’t absolutely at the top of his game, or Stephen Harper might even now be checking the vacancies at some think tank.

Hemingway called courage "grace under pressure."  Jack Layton’s last campaign did the definition one better:  he was a cane-wielding one man wonder of grace and cheerfulness; easily the most exuberant and – everyone said so – just the most damn likeable of all the leaders.  At the end of the campaign, by the way – the cane was no longer a crutch, it was more like a wand, or his conductor’s baton, or his personalized cudgel beating back the grim Harperites and deluded Iggnatophiles. 

Jack was having fun -- the smiling warrior. 

In a way that’s one of the elements that makes today’s news so harsh for all Canadians, and must make it just about unbearable for those who are very close to Mr. Layton.  He rose so fully, so completely to the challenge, outperformed past all expectation – and, as it were, almost at the exact moment of his triumph, as he raised his hands in victory, his eyes lit with joy on election night, the horrible cancer was returning for its second assault.

From his appearance on election night to his appearance at that news conference – shrunken, pale, but irrepressible still – this was a transition terrible to witness. 

As far as what can be said – well, here too, Mr. Layton was the true leader – leaving a last letter to all Canadians, which is as fine a testament to his dauntless character and sense of public service as it is possible to have.  He wrote:

Love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. 

A life’s noble creed – precise as an equation – and the perfect signature of the man who wrote it.             

To his family, most especially his wife Olivia – they were a team – and to all who knew and cherished him – we offer our deepest commiseration.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.