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This is a screen grab from a YouTube video, shot at a barbecue festival called BBQ on the Bow, in which Jon Lord demonstrates how he makes sauce. (Wolfgang Leonhardt)
This is a screen grab from a YouTube video, shot at a barbecue festival called BBQ on the Bow, in which Jon Lord demonstrates how he makes sauce. (Wolfgang Leonhardt)

Politician a ‘community-builder in the truest sense of the word’ Add to ...

A politician, small-business owner and competitive griller, Jon Lord spent years trying to make things better – whether it was introducing more efficient light bulbs for the City of Calgary, serving customers at his popular video store or striving for barbecue perfection at the World Series of grilling. He also championed lower taxes for small businesses and helped revitalize the now-trendy neighbourhood of Marda Loop.

Mr. Lord, who served as a city councillor and member of the Alberta Legislature, and twice ran as a mayoral candidate against the current incumbent, Naheed Nenshi, died March 25 after a heart attack, at the age of 57.

After Mr. Lord’s death, Mr. Nenshi paid tribute to his former rival. “I knew Jon well and I was happy to get to know him better during the last two mayoral elections,” Mr. Nenshi said in a statement. Though Mr. Lord finished with just 0.4 per cent of the vote in his 2010 run for mayor, his second try, last October, saw him win 21 per cent of the vote to Mr. Nenshi’s 74 per cent.

“It was an honour to have him as a challenger because he pushed all of us to be better,” Mr. Nenshi wrote.

“Jon was a community-builder in the truest sense of the word,” he wrote. “His belief in the power of entrepreneurship led him to public service; he understood that government is there to serve its citizens and that we need people with fresh ideas at the table if we want positive change in our community.”

Mr. Lord believed small businesses were the lifeblood of neighbourhoods, providing jobs, a sense of community and a place to meet friends and strangers. He spent years trying to persuade governments to lighten the tax burden on small shops.

Since Mr. Lord’s death, Sheryl Guillaume, his wife, has steadfastly supported the cause. “The first thing I said when Jon’s former secretary called … and asked what the city could do, I said: ‘Lower taxes.’ That’s Jon.”

Dale Hodges, a former Calgary councillor, said Mr. Lord was relentless in his crusade on behalf of businesses, and was constantly pushing for change. “All the time. Every meeting. Any time he got a chance,” Mr. Hodges said. Mr. Lord, he said, liked to debate but it never became personal.

Mr. Lord also took on less-conventional battles, such as persuading the city to switch to high-tech light bulbs to save money. He admitted he pestered until he got his way.

“It took me several years of effort to get anyone at city hall to take this idea seriously,” Mr. Lord told the Calgary Herald in 2001. “It wouldn’t have been pursued at all without my constant nagging everyone to get after it, including a rather contentious meeting one day with the mayor [Al Duerr] and the board of commissioners,” he said.

“It took about five years to get to the point of actually changing any light bulbs.”

Ms. Guillaume estimates the energy-efficient light bulbs now save the city about $100,000 per year.

Ric McIver, Alberta’s minister of infrastructure, turned to Mr. Lord for advice in the late 1990s when he was starting his political career. He remembers Mr. Lord being proud of his light bulb plan – something that challenged the status quo.

“He was always looking to build a better mousetrap,” Mr. McIver said. “He was an idea factory.”

Mr. McIver ran for mayor in Calgary in 2010, hoping for Mr. Lord’s support. Mr. Lord, however, decided to run himself. “That was Jon. If he thought he was able to make a difference – he was bold,” Mr. McIver said. “He just jumped in.”

The rare type of Calgarian who was a native of the city, he was born in 1956. His parents, Connie and Hugh Brown, named him Jonathan. When he was still a child, his parents decided to move the family to a homestead in northern Alberta, where they kept cows and horses. Young Jon helped work the farm alongside his six siblings until he left to study at the University of Alberta.

After repeatedly being confused with other people named Jon Brown, he decided to change his surname to Lord. His wife said the name was inspired by both Jack Lord, of Hawaii Five-O fame, and Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, both of whom he thought were cool.

Entrepreneurial from a young age, he started his first business, a painting company, at the age of 18. A little while later, just as VCRs started becoming widely available, he had the idea of opening a video store. According to Ms. Guillaume, his movie-rental business, Casablanca Video, which opened in February, 1981, was the first store in Canada dedicated exclusively to renting videos. (A store in Toronto opened a month earlier, she said, but it also sold electronics.)

One of the few video stores still running today, Casablanca rents old-school VHS tapes alongside DVDs and serves as Marda Loop’s neighbourhood drop-in centre, Ms. Guillaume said. Mr. Lord used to joke that he had finally run Blockbuster out of business.

“Casablanca just isn’t a place to rent movies,” Ms. Guillaume said. “It is a place where people come in, and some people have nowhere to have a conversation, a contact with another human being. But they can come into our store and they can talk to someone about movies …That’s what Casablanca has been for 33 years.”

And then there was Mr. Lord’s barbecue prowess. After topping local competitions, he headed to Kansas City – in the middle of the race leading up to the 2013 mayoral election – to compete against international grillers in the American Royal Invitational. He was a “mad scientist” when whipping up spice mixes, Ms. Guillaume said. He just tossed ingredients together by instinct, adding a dash of this and a scoop of that. The outcome was slightly different every time.

People asked him about his secret ingredient, and he told them the truth: “It is so secret even I don’t know it,” he would say.

Mr. Lord leaves his wife, Ms. Guillaume; his four daughters, Mandy Kolebaba, Michelle DeCecco, Katie DeCecco and Jessica Eren; Ms. Guillaume’s children, Anthony Squires and Michael Morey; and several grandchildren.

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