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facts & arguments

John (Jack) Buss

Musician, filmmaker, photographer, educator. Born June 25, 1923, in Toronto, died Aug. 15, 2012, in Toronto of pneumonia, aged 89.

John (Jack) Buss died after a heroic battle with cancer of the esophagus that left him unable to eat over the last few years of his life. But what a life it was!

A concert-quality pianist, John lost two Toronto Kiwanis music competitions – both to Glenn Gould.

A documentary filmmaker, John operated as a CBC stringer in Asia for several years, living in Bangkok, where he met Sampong – one of his long-time partners.

He also accompanied Lotta Hichmanova of the Unitarian Service Committee in documenting, with stark but empathetic images, the starvation and suffering around the world, helping to launch the public consciousness that underpins most aid agencies today.

John was a gentle man who lived a humble life, well-loved by almost everyone he ever spent time with.

He had a raucous sense of humour and delighted in imagining scenarios he would never dare enact. Well-known for his excellent taste in decorating, he loved to muse about spending an enormous sum on some hideous artifact and then presenting it with much flourish to one of his pretentious acquaintances.

In his last years, John lived at the Scarborough Veterans Hospital in Toronto in recognition of his military service during the Second World War, when he stoked the boilers of steamships with coal for the Canadian navy.

During his military service, he rose to the lowly level of Stoker 2nd Class, which was as near to the bottom of military rankings as one can get.

It should come as no surprise to those who knew John that he was not cut out for leadership in the military, though all who had the privilege to work for him would have gone to hell and back several times for him at the drop of a hat.

Many nations choose their heroes from among those who excel on the battlefield. For me, the actions of Lester Pearson in the Suez Crisis and the bravery of Terry Fox define heroism. I would add John Buss to the list of Canadian heroes: He embodied the essence of what Canada was known and respected for around the world, much like Norman Bethune in China.

This Stoker 2nd Class was a true class act of the premier rank. He personified the concerns and empathy of thinking Canadians about the world's less fortunate, and acted upon his empathy by travelling among the most destitute of regions in an effort to help in whatever manner he could.

Canada has lost one of its finest citizens, and also one of its finest ambassadors – a Stoker 2nd Class who rose above almost all around him in a gentle, unassuming but completely compelling manner.

We will miss you John, for your magnanimous personality but also for what you stood for, shovel and all.

Allan Martel is Jack's friend.