Category Archives: Obituary

Reflections on the lives of noteworthy persons.

Gaddafi: The Last of the Longest Rule

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IF YOU are at or under the age of forty-two, Moammar Gaddafi has presided over Libya the full span of your life. This factoid must certainly describe the majority of Libyans, most of whom have never known of life under another dispensation, let alone had the opportunity to choose something or even just someone different. Now that is about to change.

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Steve Jobs: an imperfect perfectionist

IN THE present context, the metaphor may well be an anachronism; nonetheless, I will begin with bookends drawn from my personal relationship with Apple products. The computer on which I have typed the words you are reading is an Apple MacBook Air which I bought this week. The first piece I ever composed by means of the personal computer — an essay on metaphor in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species — was typed over twenty years ago on an Apple II. I am no lover of computers, and even less a Mac enthusiast: and yet here I am a citizen of the Empire.

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Remembering Jack Layton: 1950-2011

I WAS INFORMED of the death earlier this morning of Federal New Democratic Party leader, Jack Layton, by Twitter. There, in an uninterrupted chain of entries numbering in the dozens (and perhaps into the hundreds: I gave up counting) were expressions of sorrow. Never have I seen such universalism of sentiment, such spontaneous participation in a mood which appears to have touched everyone, really everyone, down to a person.

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Remembering Rick Martin

It’s odd what one recalls years after — the expression of a face, a sound, words spoken which at the time seemed of no special importance. I remember the smell of the glossy hockey programs sold in the 1970s and 1980s at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. For some years my uncle Mark held seasons tickets, and together we watched a number of games. But of course everyone with a connection to the French Connection will recall above everything else the 1975 Stanley Cup final, the Buffalo Sabres versus the Philadelphia Flyers. I watched those games in the bedroom of my grandparents’ Fort Erie house where my father had grown up, and I can recall with great clarity the bats and fog which constitute a good part of Sabres legend.

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The Obituary

One of my favourite literary genres, and in my view one of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood, is the obituary. Speaking of literature … it was a premature French obituary of 1888 which perhaps led Alfred Nobel to establish the Nobel Peace Prize. How painfully aware of his public relations problem he must have become, regarding himself in an obituarist’s rendering as “the merchant of death” and seeing his life’s work summarized thusly: he “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” Continue reading The Obituary

Jake Swamp, A Man of Roots

Jake SwampJake Swamp, 1941-2010


I didn’t know Jake Swamp, but as the saying goes I knew of him. Few are the Kanienkehaka who don’t. Or rather — I must get used to this now — didn’t. This morning I was informed of his passing, in the very early hours of Friday, October 15.

Tekaronianeken, or Jake Swamp as he was commonly known, was born at Akwesasne in 1941. He was of the generation born under the old dispensation of colonial shame but arriving to the 1960s and ’70s with a sense of purpose and a strong, proud voice. As a young man, he had been taught by Christian priests in St. Regis to consider the Longhouse a Pagan menace. So often the case with the Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse”), a woman made short work of that. His wife Judy gradually brought him around, and so one year during Strawberry Festival time he went to the Longhouse and listened, out of curiosity. That decision changed his life. Continue reading Jake Swamp, A Man of Roots