Let me tell you a story from my rookie season. My REAL rookie season; the one I've been coasting off for the last few years (and thank you for reading this blog, by the way.)
You may remember the spring of 2008. It was a great time to be a Habs fan. Our team was first in the conference and fans were high-fiving each other in the streets. It was the first time I watched my team go to the playoffs.
And yet I chose to watch Jack Layton speak at Concordia, rather than settling in at home in my Koivu T-shirt to watch the game from start to finish. (Czechtacular was supposed to come with me, but politely changed her mind as soon as the playoff schedule was announced. We split duties: I would listen to Layton while she watched the first half of the game and kept me updated.)
Why? Because Jack Layton was the leader of a major political party and he was coming to speak at my school for free. Because he wasn't afraid of what a tough Concordia crowd could be like. Because he wanted to speak to students and get them involved in what was happening in their own country, not just wait until they were the heads of those young families everyone wants votes from. Because he made politics cool. Because he had a great mustache.
And that evening, he was exactly what you would expect Jack Layton to be like. Fabulous mustache, tie, no jacket, sleeves rolled up, and about as dynamic and human as any politician could be. He talked to a few people in the crowd before being formally introduced and taking the stage. The formality ended there. He started by thanking us all for showing up instead of watching Game 1 and half-joked that he expected to be talking to an empty room. He then said, "If you're on your cellphone and find out the Habs scored, don't keep it to yourself." He actually gave his crowd permission to interrupt him.
Layton then continued to talk about growing up in Montreal, how his family had opened Layton Audio on Ste. Catherine so many decades ago, going to McGill (boo), and living most of his adult life in Toronto. He also talked politics, obviously, and I look forward to the day when someone tries as hard as he did to inspire people just by expressing himself honestly. His entire speech proved that he was one of a kind.
He ended his speech by inviting us all to a nearby pub to ask him questions face-to-face and engage in real discussion, rather than continuing to talk at us from a stage. That's the kind of thing I'd expect to hear from a real person, not a talking head who made regular appearances on election posters and in the news.
Habs fans, we lost one of our own. And he was a great one, and his work for this country wasn't finished. I can only hope that I'm wrong in thinking that he was one of a kind, because I'd be so happy to see another political figure try to move Canada like Layton did.
Rest in peace, Jack.