I was shocked and deeply saddened when learning of your passing this week. It does not seem real that you were just here, and now you're gone, in the whisper of a moment that came too soon. Yours was a life ended early, but not before you were able to impart important life lessons that I will carry for the rest of my days.
Jim, you taught me humanity. Everyone who worked for you knew how seriously you took your job. You knew the importance of your obligations and responsibilities, but you never took yourself too seriously. On my wedding day, the sight of watching you jovially dance with Christine in a room full of people you’d mostly never met showed me were comfortable in your own skin. You taught me it was OK to be human.
Jim, you taught me authenticity. The way you engaged with people of all walks of life showed me it was important to be the same way with everyone one meets. Whether it was speaking with a senior who recognized your face while walking through an airport, or across the table from a corporate titan who wanted something in the Budget, or at an international meeting of Finance Ministers. You were the same man, with that smile and charm, whether it was Mrs McGillicuddy or the US Treasury Secretary.
Jim, you taught me to laugh. Not only at life but also at myself. In January, when you and John joined us for family night while watching the Leafs and Habs, you told me how beautiful and well behaved my daughter was. And in the next moment, with that familiar Irish cackle, said how lucky she was to take after her mother. You laughed back when I said it was nice to see you were still able to wear children’s clothing because of your vertical restrictions.
Jim, you taught me to listen. We had some difficult days with colleagues or stakeholders who didn’t like a decision you’d taken. On every occasion, even if you vehemently disagreed with the other side, you took the time to hear their case. You made people feel better, even if they didn’t change your mind, by closing your mouth and opening your ears. And on the occasion where you were persuaded to change your view, you taught me that listening made good ideas better.
Jim, you taught me decision-making was not about what is convenient or expedient, but rather about what is right and fair. Time after time, you never failed to protect those who could not protect themselves, and your work on behalf of the disabilities community will never be equaled. It was the creation of the Registered Disabilities Savings Plan, the development of the Abilities Centre Durham, and more recently, funding for autistic research taught me that government could be a force for good.
Jim, you taught me more than you'll ever know.
You gave a speech in which you said public service is "good" for people. You know what? You're right. Your public service was good for Canada. Your example was good for me.
Thanks, Jim. For everything.
Regan Watts is an executive with Lafarge Canada Inc. He was a senior aide to Minister Flaherty and is a close family friend.