living dharma

Remembering my godbrother – John Duffy
March 5, 2022, 9:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Terrible news arrived yesterday in a strange way. My old friend and godbrother John Duffy died suddenly. My friend David – here in our little town and also an old friend of John’s – saw a tweet from the Prime Minister, expressing his condolences and sorrow at John’s sudden death the day before. And then David wrote to me to tell me what happened.

It really was a shock. John was only 58 and, as far as I know, was not dealing with any menacing health conditions. Those many of us who knew and loved him are waiting to learn what happened, how John died. But really – the details are just that. The central hard fact is that a dynamic and brilliant person has died too soon.

John was a lifelong Liberal. He advised prime ministers and premiers and mayors. He co-founded a government relations firm in 1995 and it went on to become a big player in the world of Fortune 500 companies and politics at all levels. John loved what he did.

John was certainly one of the smartest people I ever met. Sometimes it could be humbling to spend time with him, because I could feel kind of not very smart; literally not understanding what he was saying. That was mostly on me but it was also about the speed and dimensionality of John’s mind. Fast talking, historical references, private inner language terms and all of it generally at high intensity.

Before all of the politics and power, we were children together. John’s parents, Mary Ann and Dennis, were my godparents. John’s family, my family and another family (the Castelos) were intertwined in a pretty wonderful community way. Eight children amongst the families. John and I were the only boys. We spent enormous amounts of time together, first as children and then as teenagers. As kids we did all the boy stuff; playing football, watching sports, going fishing. And because John was so precociously brilliant, we also did things like watching old Russian classic films and reading great literature or history or philosophy and discussing it together, with John doing most of the discussing.

I went to my first rock concert with John, at Maple Leaf Gardens. Rush and April Wine. Ha. John introduced me to all kinds of great music. We both loved the Grateful Dead and we watched the Grateful Dead movie that came out in 1976 a number of times. I went on to see the Dead play later in my life but I’m not sure John ever got to see them play.

As we grew into adulthood we grew apart. John embraced party politics as a Liberal and I embraced party politics as a New Democrat. John went on to become a wealthy, powerful, highly connected lobbyist – championing liberal democracy and capitalism in ways that I never really understood. Because John was so smart and because he had such an encyclopaedic knowledge of public policy and the critical issues we face as a human family – he knew climate change inside out. He knew the dynamics of soaring inequality. And he devoted himself to working within the system in the hope of making progressive change as it is understood by Liberals. I never really got it and that may, in part, be on me. Since my view is that status quo politics and business as usual are destroying life on earth – I couldn’t relate to John’s choices. And I probably stopped listening or inquiring. I wish I’d had more time with John to understand how he saw the work he did and why he did it, at a deeper level.

John was married and devoted to Jill, a high powered criminal lawyer. They had two daughters, ages 20 and 17. John’s enormous presence will be missed by many but I really can’t imagine how hard this moment is for the family he loved with all his big heart.

John traveled widely and read even more widely. But he lived in one place his almost his whole life, his beloved Toronto (not long ago John and Jill bought a place in the lovely theatre-y town of Stratford). John was a true city lover and city dweller. He never learned to drive. He walked, rode his bike, took the subway and taxis. He loved to eat and drink and laugh and tell stories. And now John’s story has ended far too soon.

Sudden death is always so shocking. Especially when it comes in the middle of a life still being fully lived. There is the disorientation that comes for those left behind. The fundamental wrongness of it. The wish for more time together.

I’m glad for John that his death was sudden, that he did not linger and suffer from some terrible illness. But he is gone too soon and he leaves many deeply saddened people behind.

The very recent photo of John above was posted by his devastated colleagues the day after he died.

1 Comment so far
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Such a sad loss of your long-time friend and god-brother, John. May his memory be for a blessing.
PS — I worked out everything with my computer, and I can now comment and communicate.

Comment by robin andrea

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