Canadians everywhere are mourning the loss of Canada’s Leader of the Official Opposition, Jack Layton, who lost his battle with cancer on August 22, 2011, but perhaps no one more so than his wife, Olivia Chow. The couple met in 1985. She was a schools trustee and he was a councillor for Metropolitan Toronto. Together they shared their life, their family and their politics. They have been involved in NDP politics for decades – Olivia is the MP for Trinity-Spadina in Ontario and Jack of course, was the leader of the party.
This morning’s Historical Couples article comes from the Toronto Star, an inside look at a true Creative Couple.
Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, who couldn’t stop holding hands over dinner in a Greek restaurant in his Danforth riding or leaning in to share a private joke with blushes and apologies, seemed to complete each other. She sometimes cut his meat, he bundled her in his jacket against the cold. They finished each other’s sentences and shared a passion for politics and Swedish thrillers, dinners with family and canoeing along northern rivers.
Even when they disagreed — as they did over a powerful sculpture by his artist wife that Layton found too phallic for the living room — they did so gently. Chow may have displayed it downstairs as he wished, but she still showed it to guests with a mischievous grin.
She was his wife, his lover, his constant companion and, as he told the Toronto Star in 2005: “Olivia is fundamental to my life. She is woven into every minute, every second, of my existence.”
She’s not alone in loss. The veteran NDP leader’s death early Monday left a country grieving and a political party numb and without the genius of the man who lifted them into the sweet role of the official Opposition.
Instead of surging into the fall session of Parliament with Layton, the party must grapple with the gruelling and potentially ugly politics of a looming leadership race.
At the end, Layton worked to avoid fractures. His letter of hope to Canadians,which Chow helped craft, also offers advice to the NDP caucus and national party. Support interim leader Nycole Turmel, he urged, and hold a leadership convention early next year to give his successor time to grow before the next election.
During the last weeks of Layton’s life, as he fought his last, greatest battle against cancer in the Spadina-area home they shared with her mother, Ho Sze Chow, he continued to depend on his wife. They’d begun their marital journey in 1988 and when it ended just before dawn on Monday, she was at his side. He was 61.
Anne McGrath noticed Olivia’s indomitable presence last Saturday when she visited Layton and Chow at home in Toronto. In fact, she’d noticed it on every visit since July 25, when Layton shocked his party and Canadians with the news he faced a new cancer. Looking frail at the Toronto press conference, his voice weak, he announced Quebec MP Turmel’s interim leadership and promised he’d be back when Parliament resumed in mid-September.
McGrath, long-time chief of staff, and NDP party national president Brian Topp spent four hours on Saturday with Layton briefing him on various scenarios for the party. They talked about his potential return but the letter was his insurance against the worst-case scenario.
When it was time to go, McGrath had a fleeting sense she wouldn’t see him again. She stroked his face and told him she loved him. But she never thought the end would come so soon.
McGrath said goodbye to Chow Saturday, aware as she always was when they were together, that Chow had spent the whole time participating in the political discussions, preparing Jack’s medications and ensuring he got them on time, offering food and tea to everyone and graciously making every person feel as comfortable as possible.
That’s what Chow, MP for Trinity-Spadina, did all summer. She’s been an immutable force, screening visitors, sending thank-you notes as quickly as messages arrived for Layton and never leaving his side. She wrote cheery notes, signing off with thoughts for others: “Hope you are enjoying our hot summer.”
Says McGrath: “My God, they were so connected. Every aspect of their lives was intertwined. Their family, their politics, the way they saw the world and enjoyed life. He adored her and she adored him . . . .
“It is a true love story.”
On Saturday, Layton joked, just as he did each time friends stopped in during his final four weeks. Friends and admirers calling in to radio talk shows Monday told of Chow putting calls on speaker so her husband could hear, and being able to detect his laughter in the background.
Chow hoped that this summer she would be there for him in the same way he’d been there for her during her experience with thyroid cancer (details of Layton’s fatal cancer have not been released to the public) and that the happy outcome would be the same.
One day in 2005, they’d been standing in their kitchen when she noticed he was staring at her neck with a worried expression. “Olivia, there is a lump on your throat,” he told her, touching the bump on the right side of her neck.
She tried to brush it off, but when she finally had a biopsy, found out it was cancerous and checked into hospital, he was at her side all the way. She could see her home from her window at Mount Sinai and Chow said she and Layton aimed light beams at each other.
When she was ill, Chow said she didn’t worry about mortality. At the time, she said: “You must live like tomorrow you might not be here.”
She can take comfort in knowing her husband did just that.
Source: The Toronto Star