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John Crossen with wife Deb. Courtesy of the family.Courtesy of the Family

“There’s a voice that keeps on calling me,” John Crossen once wrote. “Down the road, is where I’ll always be.”

In less than two hours, he finished the lyrics to Maybe Tomorrow, the theme song to The Littlest Hobo. The song would become a piece of Canadiana so beloved that, even 40 years later, if you sing the first line someone around you is likely to join in.

It has been used in advertisements, covered and recorded by bands around the world, described as “among the best tunes ever associated with television” and “one of the greatest Canadians songs, period.”

Mr. Crossen died on March 22 in Buckhorn, Ont., from congestive heart failure. He was 73.

John Robert Crossen was born in Midland, Mich., on Sept. 4, 1944, an only child in a middle-class family. He grew up riding his bike with friends and watching movies at the Frolic Theatre. After university he was called up in the draft for the Vietnam War but was denied because he had flat feet, and instead moved north to Canada. He arrived in 1967 to a joyous party on Yonge Street, which he liked to joke had been thrown to celebrate his arrival. In fact, the Maple Leafs had just won the Stanley Cup.

Mr. Crossen found work as an advertising copywriter and met Terry Bush, a musician and jingle writer who would become a lifelong friend and frequent collaborator. The two penned the theme song for the 1972 Canada Cup together, and it was Mr. Bush who approached Mr. Crossen in 1978 to write the theme song for “a little doggy show.”

“I saw what he’d written, and it was just bang on. I thought, ‘this is perfect,’” remembers Mr. Bush, who wrote the music and performed the song. “I credit the success of that song worldwide to those lyrics.”

Deb Crossen learned within weeks of their first date in 1985 that her new boyfriend wrote the lyrics to Maybe Tomorrow, then discovered over the course of their long, happy marriage how much the words reflected the character of the man who wrote them.

“The lyrics are just so true for John’s life,” she says. “John was a guy who didn’t fit a mould. He followed his heart a lot, he followed his passions. And he never let a place or a situation determine who he was.”

But of his many interests, it was astronomy that would become Mr. Crossen’s most enduring passion, after his mother-in-law gave him a small telescope for Christmas.

Fascinated by the science and entranced by the mysteries of space, Mr. Crossen graduated to more and more powerful telescopes and joined an astronomy club. He and Deb soon spent their weekends camping in Northern Ontario, taking astral photographs and watching the stars. They later moved from Simcoe to Buckhorn, Ont., in search of both simpler, small-town life and darker skies for stargazing.

There Mr. Crossen retired from advertising – where he had come to specialize in writing copy for car catalogues – and turned his attention to building and equipping his own astronomical observatory.

In 2001, he opened the Buckhorn Observatory to the public. In addition to hosting a steady stream of visitors, Mr. Crossen spoke often to schools and community groups, and later wrote an astronomy column that ran in the local newspapers, all dedicated to sharing his love of the heavens, and passing his own wonder on to others.

“The lives he’s touched,” Ms. Crossen says. “I don’t think he realized the impact he had. He was very humble.”

She says Mr. Crossen was proud of writing Maybe Tomorrow, especially knowing the song is still played around the world, but that he didn’t dwell on it much beyond that.

Instead of looking backward, she says he focused on the world around him and the vast sky above. Called, as he wrote all those years ago, by the friends and experiences along the way.

“He always had a smile on his face and a song in his heart,” Ms. Crossen says. “He was funny, he was generous, he impacted everyone he met just by being a kind, sweet human being. That’s another legacy.”

Mr. Crossen leaves his wife, Deb Crossen, and extended family. A celebration of his life will take place at the Buckhorn Community Centre on April 8.

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