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lives lived

John Howard Hood: Brother. Leafs lover/hater. Chocoholic. Survivor. Born May 26, 1945, in Toronto; died April 26, 2022, in Toronto, of liver cancer; aged 76.

John as a young boy, proud of his catch.Courtesy of family

A childhood photograph of John shows him lifting a string with three fish he’d caught. His sweater rides up to create a smile along his belt line. He stands pigeon toed, his head is cocked to one side as if to acknowledge the grandeur of this moment.

“Look what I did! See these fish? I caught ‘em and brought ‘em home for dinner,” he seems to say, his rod and reel are in his right hand, extended for all to see: “And this is how I caught ‘em.”

He is proud. This photo captures that most vulnerable part of his character. “I matter,” it says. “I’m John Howard Hood.” His early life gave him every reason to wither and to disappear.

He was injured at birth and would always have special needs. He was born into a highly dysfunctional family. And there were times that John did disappear into something called an “opportunity class” in school, and to the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ont., an institution later accused of humiliation and abuse of its residents. John made courageous choices to survive the abuse he received.

He was a proud man. He managed to hold jobs, to be married (several times) and loved to rant about the Maple Leafs and politics.

After a time, he reunited with his sister and brother aided by loving help from his sister, Barb, and Stuart, her husband. The shards of his family took shape as a bowl that was large enough to contain our approaching adventures.

As his brother, I shared some profound moments with John.

The first was helping him construct and deliver the documents he needed to apply for compensation for his confinement at Huronia. We met weekly at Tim Hortons to remember. His life at Huronia was full of mistreatment, abuse and bullying. He was alone, away from his family. Those entrusted with his welfare were often abusive. They exploited his vulnerability. I remember there were times when he sat silently, sipping his coffee, remembering, hurting. … Sometimes it was too difficult to talk.

There wasn’t too much more profound to John than food.Courtesy of family

Yet, John also remembered two guards who were kind to him. He found a way to survive, to hope. And the thought of receiving compensation kept him going. He imagined what he would do ”when my ship comes in.”

One June day, several years ago, we dressed up, took pictures and took a road trip to Guelph to hand over his completed documents to the lawyers managing his case. About a year later he received a settlement from the Ontario government for more than $20,000.

His ship had come in.

The second privilege I had with John was shopping for groceries. There wasn’t too much more profound to John than food. Our adventure usually began with a phone call.

“I thought I’d call to see if you need groceries?” I’d ask

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” John always repeated yeah five times in rapid fire. Always.

He ambled down the aisles, often leaning on the shopping cart, laser scanning the shelves. His shopping list: chocolate milk, chocolate cake, Jos Louis cakes, chocolate doughnuts, hot chocolate, apple pie, raisin bread, sausages, Hungry-Man frozen dinners, anything else chocolate.

One time I bought him fancy Italian chocolate pastries.

“Nope … don’t like them,” he grumped.

The third thing we shared is very simple. Phone calls.

We talked about the Leafs (“they have no defense”), the Raptors (“I don’t watch basketball”), horror movies (“oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah … The Texas Chainsaw Massacre … Freddy Krueger … ”)

Sometimes we struggled to find common ground but one thing stayed constant. When we finished kvetching about our childhood stories (being locked outside on a winter’s day … freezing our butts off), when we finished all of that, I said: “I love you, my brother.”

And he said, always, “I love you, too.”

Richard Hood is John’s brother.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide