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Ben Carr's Eulogy for his Father The Honourable Jim Carr delivered at his memorial service on Dec 17, 2022

by Ben Carr, posted here December 19, 2022

Thank you for joining with us today in honour of my father. How fitting it is to do this here, at the Concert Hall, a place he loved so much. To all who have flown in on short notice from out of town, we are so deeply grateful. As I look into this diverse audience, I can see looking back at me, proof of a life well lived.

He was born James Gordon Carr. To his friends and family, he held many names, most notable among them were Dad, Zaidi, Professor Friendly, and of course, “Jimmy” … although “Jimmy” was an exclusivity that was broadened in 2015 following his appointment to cabinet, when he would say “please, call me Minister Jimmy”.

He came from a large yet close knit family. His brothers Al and Robert were very special to him. He and Robert were exceptionally close. Like their mother Esther, and her sister Fran, they were best friends, and their affection for one another was visible in every interaction they had.

He had a very close relationship with his mother Esther, and took after her in many ways. He thought about her often, along with his grandparents. He would recall how much they sacrificed and endured to provide our family with the strong foundation we have been able to build upon since their arrival to Canada.

His father David died many years ago, but dad spoke of him fondly, particularly of his kindness and intellect. Dad talked frequently of his deep love and appreciation for his cousins. He saw them as brothers and sisters – relishing in every opportunity to sip scotch, dine, or converse together. Passover and Rosh Hashanah gatherings over the years were favourites of his, because they brought us all together.

Dad spoke glowingly and proudly of his Great Uncle David, a World War Two Veteran who survived nearly 4 years in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp, and then went on to become the first Jewish Deputy Minister in the Federal Government. A portrait of Uncle David hangs on the wall of his parliamentary office in Ottawa.

Dad was proud to be Jewish, and saw this as central to his identity. 

My father loved my sisters Rachel, Becky, and me. We always felt it. Each of us shared our own unique bonds with him, rooted in a mutual love of sport, food, travel, music, and one another. Just this past week, Becky travelled with dad to Ottawa, and took great care of him as he crossed the finish line on his private member’s bill. This was time that he cherished greatly.

Travelling with his kids was always a source of joy for Dad. In 1993, he took my sister Rachel to the first two game of World Series in Toronto – a memory I know she and him held onto dearly. He always said that they “had the same brain” because they processed things the same way and often knew what the other was going to say before it was said.

He had a loving relationship with his step-children as well, Daniel, and his wife Maryana, Jesse, and Kiernan. As a result of the love that he and Colleen have shown the six of us over the years, and the value they placed on the importance of our family, we have enjoyed a deep affection for one another.

To Georgia, the family’s beloved Doodle Dog, he was a loyal and loving companion.

Dad and Colleen always worked hard to find ways to bring us all together. Their purchase of a house in Todos Santos was to be a place that served that purpose. When we gather there in years to come, we will feel him in the warmth of the sun that we share, and reflect on how much he would have loved being there with us.

In recent years, his heart became fuller with the birth of his grandchildren, Sophia, Michelle, and Markian, – with whom some of his most precious moments were spent. Daniel, Maryana, Sophia, and I were fortunate to share an incredibly special few minutes with the Prime Minister in his office just last month, following which, Sophia came home and proudly announced that she had met the “King of Canada”, with Zaidi.

Dad had an endearing quality about him that involved a love of often everyday objects. Each of which had its own name. His latest car was Pierre. His cane, was Mable. He loved his boat at Caddy Lake; “Old Reliable”. A name he optimistically bestowed upon it. It was his happy place, even when it wouldn’t start.

The kids respected how committed he was to being a normal guy. He never saw himself as better than anyone, he was the opposite of a snob.

We loved to tease him. For example, it was mystery to all of his family, immediate and extended, how a guy with such musical ability was such a bad dancer and we let him know – and we did so often.

Dad was born on October 11th, 1951. 35 years later, on the very same day, I was born. The sharing of a birthday was just one of the special pieces of a larger fabric that wove our lives together. We would spend countless hours talking about world affairs, and then abruptly, at the same point in a conversation, we would both say “ok, that’s good – talk to you later”, and hang up. We knew each other so well.

Dad was a gifted musician. He began his musical career early while a student at Montrose Elementary and Grant Park High School. He was introduced to the Oboe by his then musical idol, and ultimately lifelong friend, his music teacher Leonard Takosky. Only a few years after picking up the Oboe, at the young age of 16, he was playing professionally with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, on this very stage.

I suspect there were more than a few Alberta oil and gas lobbyists shaking in their boots when the headline on the morning of November 4 th, 2015 read: “Oboist becomes Minister of Natural Resources”.

Music was a passion he carried with him until the end, as the sounds of Beethoven and other greats played in his ears over his last few days. It was exactly what he wanted.

Dad grew up with the lessons of the depression taught by grandparents fresh in his mind – primarily the concept of… let’s call it “resourcefulness”. This would manifest itself in many ways. Anyone who had the pleasure to enjoy one of his home cooked meals, for example, was required to patiently listen as he thoughtfully broke down the individual cost of every ingredient used to prepare the meal as we ate. “So let’s think about this for a minute” he’d say. There’s six of us. The chicken was $20.00, the potatoes about $5.50, bread was $3.75, and soup $6.00, not to mention the seasoning, oh, and that piece of parsley. Divide that by the number of people at the table, factor in how many days of leftovers we will have - now that’s what I call a deal.”

He also had a goofy side. Sometimes we would communicate only in a “Kennedy accent” …for minutes on end, much to the chagrin of anyone around – like my sister Rachel who had to contend with it for literally hours during one memorable road trip. Dad would weave that accent routinely and seamlessly into any conversation as he saw fit. Ask him how his day was, you might get this in response: “it was a ah, good day… we uh, did great things for the country, you should be uh proud”.

He had a lovely voice, and when we were young, used it often to sing us to sleep with folk classics such as James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James or Paul Simon’s American Tune. Amazingly, his two-year-old granddaughter Michelle knows every word to Sweet Baby James already and sings it with a twinkle in her eye that lights up at the sound of the first note.

To many his friends he was “pistol”. A nickname he got from having his arm stuck in a sling after breaking his collarbone, leaving him looking like a western movie star reach for his holster. Dad was blessed to have friendships with people he had known virtually all of his life. For us kids, they were like another set of uncles. In particular, Dan Diamond, Sam Malkin and Reg Pratt were special figures who loomed large in our lives.

As a family, we have been blessed to develop our own relationships with dad’s friends – so many of you are here today…. your company in the days, weeks, and years to come will undoubtedly bring us great comfort and offer beautiful reminders of our collective memories with him. Dad knew everybody. When you went for lunch with him at Bernstein’s Deli, which many of us did, you weren’t just having lunch with him, you were eating with the whole restaurant.

Dad believed strongly in public service and in our collective responsibility to look after one another. He instilled this in all of his kids from an early age – and extended it to those who worked with him. He never missed the opportunity to turn something into a learning moment. For me, these lessons were learned from listening, watching, and talking to him over the years. “It’s about additions, not subtractions, my boy” he would say. “You have to listen to people. Be interested in their lives. Find ways to connect with them. Be open minded and curious to learn more”.

I can remember being a kid, and one day a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door. Two hours later, they were still in our living room, sitting on the couch, talking to Dad. I asked him recently why he did that. “It wasn’t about me trying to be swayed by them, or them by me” he said, “it was about opening myself up to see the world from a different perspective.”.

The same answer was given when I asked him why he seemed to be such good friends with Gary Doer and Gary Filmon, both political rivals during his time in the Manitoba legislature. They were “the bad guys”, after all, weren’t they? Whether he knew it or not, he was teaching us that just because you don’t see the world the same way, or agree on every issue, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for friendship and mutual respect from one person to another.

He could hear and see beyond the noise and distractions that always lingered in the background of the political arena – and in doing so, would find the commonalities …. through the humour, respect, and courtesy…that one needs to build meaningful relationships with people, on a human level.

It didn’t take long for him to become admired and relied upon by his colleagues. He was reasonable, generous, thoughtful, and wellconsidered in his interactions with them. He developed a reputation as a strong cabinet committee chair, capable of bridging divides among colleagues and building consensus around difficult issues. Much of this came as a result of his tireless work ethic.

In 2015, shortly after he was elected to Parliament, I made the decision to move to Ottawa to work for Melanie Joly. We lived together, Dad and I, for a time in his condo on Laurier Ave – a place that he loved. We would wake up together in the morning, straighten each other’s ties, and talk about the day ahead.

He would finish that day, usually 12 or 14-hours long, having worked non-stop through meeting after meeting, and then come home to read hundreds of pages of cabinet documents for the next day – not before having a scotch, of course. Never once did he take the job for granted – and it showed in his successes.

He was exceptionally well served by dozens of staffers over the years, each of whom he admired and appreciated. His longest serving staffer, and close friend, Jeff Kovalik Plouffe, was never far, and they enjoyed a deep and rich bond.

Dad lived by the words of our dear Aunty Fran. “It all comes down to attitude”, she would say. “The glass must always be half full”. “Be full of life”. He was set to give a speech on Wednesday in the House of Commons. It was to be a farewell address that would afford him the opportunity to share his reflections as a parliamentarian. We talked about what he was going to day a few lines of which I can read for you now: “Mr. Speaker, as I rise today and stand on the floor of this Chamber for what may be the last time, my spirit is as strong as ever - bolstered by the inspiration I have drawn from recent moments in this House, and the kindness poured into me by all of you.” “I’d like to share a few observations, if I may, learned over the course of a lifetime: never stop learning. Keep an open mind. Speak only when you have taken the time to consider your words carefully, treat the moment in which you choose to speak them, with equal care… Seek to build bridges and consensus... add chairs around the dinner table. Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, be kind to each other.”

My dad never got to speak these words. Having heard all of the wonderful tributes pouring in from his colleagues, it is clear that he was able to convey those lessons to them without having to put it into words.

My Dad was tough. I mean really, really tough. He campaigned with kidney failure and cancer running through him for over 30 days in 2019. He ended election night by giving an upbeat victory speech in front of a large crowd, before going to the hospital for the night, where the very next morning, we received his diagnosis. He had dialysis two, sometimes 3 times a week, for 4 hours each time, over the course of the past three years.

He had a stem cell transplant in the middle of a pandemic, alone in isolation for a month-long recovery that did not allow for a single visitor. He came home, and while recovering, remained committed to service, and eventually made his way back into the Cabinet, continuing the work he had been sent to Ottawa to do.

He did everything in his power to make sure that he could be with us for as long as possible – because he loved us, and he loved life. In the past few weeks, he travelled back and forth to Ottawa on numerous occasions to give speeches in the House of Commons in support of his Private Members Bill – legislation that seeks to put the Prairies at the forefront of an emerging green economy. He did not need to be there in person. He could have debated, spoken, and listened virtually, but he wanted to be there.He wanted to hear, feel, and see the conversations he was having with colleagues.

On December 7th, that Bill passed through the House of Commons, and his final moments there saw him surrounded by people he loved, in a place he loved, working to improve the well-being of everyone, from the region he loved. I am so thrilled to inform you that on Thursday, his bill Received Royal Assent – meaning it has passed through the Senate, and is now officially Canadian Law.Your work is done now, Dad.

He taught us so much about how to live when you know you are dying. In recent months, and especially the past few days, my dad and our family were served with exceptional love, care, and support by the palliative team. They kept him comfortable. They reassured us that everything would be okay, and that he was resting peacefully.

They provided him with the comfort that he needed to know that his wishes could be met – that is – that he would be given the ability to go out on his own terms. Through their magnificent kindness and care, he did just that.

Colleen – you brightened each of his days.Through all of the sadness and challenges we had to endure as a family over the past three years, the strength, love, and dedication you showed to our dad left him, and leaves us – eternally grateful. He loved so you much. I know that he was deeply grateful to have in you a partner with whom he could share the things that mattered most in life. You supported him unequivocally in his pursuits, and in that way, allowed him to realize so many of his dreams.

Of all the things he was to people he came across in life, to me, he was always, simply, dad. A larger than life figure whose existence and presence has had, without question, the most profound impact in my life. He breathed life into us all. He did so through his courage, wisdom, and love.

In the years to come, we will see him, ever and always present in the world around us.Through the way we will look at a situation, hear a whispered word of wisdom from his voice within us, feel the courage and strength we need to persevere through a difficult moment, or sensing the love that we all need to comfort us throughout our lives… he will be there.

Our favourite Paul Simon song to listen to and sing together was American Tune. The last line of that beautiful song, inclusive of the powerful symbol it represents in the deepest of bonds between Dad and I, is a fitting way to end:

It’s alright, it’s alright, you can’t be forever blessed. Still tomorrow’s going to be another working day, and I’m trying to get some rest.

You can rest now, Sweet Baby James.

 
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