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Jerry Yanover, long-time Liberal adviser, in the MP's entrance on Parliament Hill Oct. 19, 2007. (Bill Grimshaw)
Jerry Yanover, long-time Liberal adviser, in the MP's entrance on Parliament Hill Oct. 19, 2007. (Bill Grimshaw)

Obituary

Liberal adviser was most comfortable working behind the scenes Add to ...

A 1957 election campaign promise to drop the tax on a piece of Fleers Dubble Bubble gum inspired his life-long passion for politics. A beloved sister's death rekindled his love for man's best friend. And a keen interest in strategy and gamesmanship combined with a strong sense of loyalty resulted in a decades-long love affair with the Cleveland Indians baseball team - not exactly a winning ball club.

Jerry Yanover was a rich, rich character.

His rumpled style and his shyness disguised a keen strategic mind. He was a brilliant parliamentary expert who served every Liberal prime minister, leader, house leader and whip for more than 40 years, beginning with Pierre Trudeau.

His death Sunday at 62 from an apparent heart attack is a loss to the Liberal leadership, as he had remained an adviser to Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale and others even after technically retiring several years ago.

From his computer in his downtown Ottawa condo, where he lived alone not far from Parliament Hill, Mr. Yanover would help strategize and interpret the arcane rules of the House for the Liberals, providing direction as they tried to manoeuvre through this minority Parliament.

"He was a solitary figure, but he was rarely alone," Mr. Goodale said. "He had an enormous extended family … everywhere he went, Jerry had a community around him."

Mr. Yanover was born in Erie, Pa., on Jan. 3, 1947, and grew up in Kingston. He told The Globe and Mail in a 2007 interview that he became interested in government when he was 10. That's when he heard on the radio that as part of their promises in the 1957 election campaign, the Liberals would drop the tax on Fleers Dubble Bubble gum. His young mind figured that meant cheaper bubble gum because in Kingston it cost 2 cents; across the river in New York State, it cost 1 cent.

But the Diefenbaker Tories won.

"That's when I decided politics needed attention in this country," Mr. Yanover said in that interview.

Like his parliamentary colleague, Peter Milliken, who is now the Speaker of the House and the Liberal MP for Kingston, Mr. Yanover subscribed to Hansard, the official proceedings in the House of Commons.

At Queen's University, the two young men were among the first students to be taught a new course on parliamentary procedure by the recognized expert, Ned Franks.

Mr. Yanover was also the president of the campus Liberal Party association.

He was the youngest in his family and the only boy. He had two older sisters, Judy Elman and Gail Yanover, who passed away eight years ago after heart surgery.

His parents, Gordon and Katherine, owned a hotel. His mother passed away 47 years ago; his father 11 years ago.

A friend said that Mr. Yanover was devastated by his father's death; the two would watch ballgames together. When he was a toddler, his Dad would take him to Cleveland Indians games, fuelling his life-long support of the team.

His father's brother, Norman, lived in the Ohio city and the Yanover family had lived in the state for several years, moving to Kingston when Jerry was 4.

As a university student, Mr. Yanover spent his summers working for his local MP and getting to know Parliament Hill. In 1969, he was hired by then Liberal House leader Donald Macdonald, and he never left.

Mr. Goodale, who first met Mr. Yanover in 1973, described his friend as "mild-mannered" and "unassuming," a person who liked to remain anonymous. Still, Mr. Yanover was well-known. In fact, anyone who knew him probably knew a good Jerry story.

There's the one about Mr. Yanover and Harry Truman: A meticulous researcher, Mr. Yanover had an intense interest in history. Arthur Milnes, who is with the Centre for Study of Democracy at Queen's University, recalled a story that Mr. Yanover told him years ago.

In the summer of 1968, Mr. Yanover drove to Independence, Mo., to pay homage to the aging Mr. Truman.

"He stood across the street and watched the elderly former president go for his morning walk," recalled Mr. Milnes. "After driving all that way, Jerry told me he didn't approach him out of respect, but simply wanted to be able to say he'd seen Harry Truman. And that he was able to do."

Mr. Milnes also recalled that Mr. Yanover was "part of a crew of young political assistants of all parties" who used to help John Diefenbaker "when the former PM was old and vulnerable."

"Jerry told me he once drove the Chief in the late (I assume) 1970s to a country fair in Smith Falls and how much he enjoyed watching Dief become the young man again as he main-streeted through the crowd," Mr. Milnes said.

Mr. Yanover's close friend, Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn, said a great tribute to Mr. Yanover is that he was admired by staffers from all parties. She said he had a passion for the country and for making the parliamentary system work.

And then there was his love for his Norwich terriers - Blues, inherited from his late sister, Gail - and then Opie, who was with him when he died.

"He loved his dog," his sister Judy said. "[Opie]was his No. 1 love after his work."

Says his friend Doug Kirkpatrick: "He walked to the beat of his own drum."

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

 

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