Jack believed the only good Tory was a suppository. A life-long Liberal his values flowed through his philosophy, speech and writing all his life. He could be like a volcano, erupting, then settling down instantly. He could make your blood boil in a discussion, make his point, and then make you laugh. Or debate you on an issue at length and then say “you know Michael you are right” totally leaving you speechless and no rebuttal. F. Scott Fitzgerald said “the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. Jack could retain 10 opposing ideas and still function. His platform was the feisty opinionated newspaper, The Sarnia Gazette, founded by the late Marceil Saddy and Jack in 1953. The paper hit the streets on Wednesdays and was a libel lawyers dream. It was a must-read in Sarnia and a source of ulcers for local bureaucrats and politicians. The paper attracted lawsuits like Donald Trump attracts investigations. Marceil and Jack were entirely different personalities but their politics, religious beliefs and love of the English language bonded them together. The Sarnia Gazette newspaper office on Front Street was a sight to behold. Cluttered with furniture that looked like it had been repatriated after WW1 and with a printing press that may have printed the first Bible in the basement, guarded by a crack team of rats.
First met Jack in 1972 as a Young Liberal, working in my first election campaign for Liberal MP Bud Cullen who was running for re-election on the Trudeau Team (in the Reign of Trudeau the First, Pierre). The campaign slogan was “The Land is Strong”. The voters thought otherwise. Bud and the Liberals won by only two seats and went from a majority to a minority government. Did I join the Liberal Party because of some deep Liberal philosophy as a teenager? No, that philosophy was there but needed to mature and would evolve later. I signed up to be around Jack’s three intelligent and beautiful daughters–Martha, Barbara and Mary Sue. A few years later I was running Liberal election campaigns with Jack as the media advisor and in charge of the political advertising. He made sure that more than a fair share of the budget went to print advertising, specifically The Sarnia Gazette, over the old grey newspaper down the street (The Sarnia Observer) as Marceil and Jack loved to call it. When challenged on the merits of that strategy he would flash his elfish smile and say “you know Michael with a full page ad you get an endorsement at The Gazette”. He always won that debate.
Marceil ran for City Council and Jack for the Separate School Board successfully. Jack was a strong proponent of full funding for the separate school system when it was only funded to grade 10. In debates at the Board he would often quote Robert’s Rules of Order to make a point or win an argument. Only years later did his fellow Board members discover Jack had never read Robert’s Rules of Order in his life.
He taught me a valuable lesson about advertising and writing which I still use to this day on column writing and as Mayor. He would say “always show other people and ask what they think”. He was right. What I thought was clear and understandable to everyone wasn’t. He popularized focus groups before they existed.
Jack’s popular Up the Creek column shared folksy funny stories about life, his family and a variety of characters with Willy being a favourite. One of the stories shared about Jack was the legendary missing pane of glass in the newsroom. Like the Kennedy assassination, the rumours and myth grew over the years. Jack, or a reporter, had thrown a typewriter through the pane of glass in the newsroom after a heated debate. Who was pitching and who was catching is lost to history. The pane of glass was never replaced and became a point of pride over the years for Jack. As the deadline loomed before printing at The Gazette, there was a sense of excitement as they prepared to expose the latest scandal or a new recipe for cooking zucchini. The content of what would be in the paper came with lots of arguments, laughter and camaraderie. A far cry from the antiseptic newsrooms of today (those that are left).
Jack lived his Liberal values. When there was an attempt by City Council (misguided) to shut down the River City Homeless Shelter on Mitton Street, Jack, an immediate neighbour, spoke out in favour of the homeless and the shelter. Not a popular position in the neighbourhood but one of integrity. The Shelter won in the courts to Jack’s delight.
He continued to write a column till his mid-eighties in First Monday full of fire and brimstone to those who offended his values. He would be appalled by what is happening here and across the country to free speech and the decline of local media, although he would be delighted to know that weeklies and monthlies, like First Monday, are surviving and prospering. Jack lived his entire journalistic life comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. He was a character with character. He will be missed.