Ovid Jackson a nice, friendly person, like so many others in the area

The news that Ovid Jackson is to be named to the Order of Ontario got me thinking about nice people this week.

Those of us who are students of history and close followers of current events at home in Canada, and abroad, could be forgiven for thinking nice people are few and far between; indeed, if all you do is read history books and newspapers or surf the Internet for that sort of thing and otherwise don’t get out much it’s not hard to understand why ivory-tower academics devote lifetimes of deep thinking to the study of human nature. I mean, are we good or evil beings? Are we God’s children or the devil’s spawn?

Well, in my humble opinion — and not to get too carried away — as far as God, The Great Spirit, or as I prefer, the Great Mystery, is concerned that question was settled more than 2,000 years ago when the essential goodness of humanity was reaffirmed by the New Testament, and the life-renewing doctrine of forgiveness and redemption was given to us all. And what a wonderful gift it was, or is. Unfortunately, that divine message has been misunderstood and corrupted, to the extent that it has been used to justify evil acts, has only served to raise yet more such questions about the human species. Narrow-minded intolerance, religious fanaticism, runs rampant. Most of us have so little faith or understanding of the spiritual life that our feeble sense of the meaning of life is all wrapped up in materialism; consequently, this beautiful, little, blue-green jewel of a planet is dying of consumption.

So why should anyone be anything but skeptical about the future of the human race and the future of the world?

I confess I have been a skeptic. But, you know, I think it comes from not getting out enough, out among the (for want of a better word) ordinary people of the community in which we live. Call it Grey-Bruce, call it Owen Sound, call it Ontario, Canada, call it the Global Village; I don’t think it matters. I don’t doubt the abundance of good people, nice people, I’ve met in recent weeks, are like most such people I might meet anywhere in the world.

Who are they? Well, they’re not what you might call VIPs (Very Important People), they’re not the rich, and the powerful; they’re not prime ministers, or entertainment celebrities. Rather, they’re working people involved for the most part in the local home renovation/construction business or trades.

I can’t mention names, lest anyone think I might as a result be getting favours in return, perish the thought. Suffice it to say, it’s been a breath of fresh air that’s done much to restore my faith in the essential goodness of humanity. I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character. And it’s great to have met so many people recently who struck me almost immediately as being honest, trustworthy, dependable — in a word, likable. You can hardly put a price on that; but in business relationships, as in personal or community life, it counts for a lot. Nowadays I think a lot of people in business know that. The really lucky ones are the people for whom it just comes naturally, who don’t even have to think about it.

Which brings me back to Ovid Jackson. Over the years working as a journalist in this area, I’ve met a lot of people involved in the news I covered for this newspaper. A good many of them were local politicians, mostly municipal, but also local MPs and MPPs. They didn’t always take kindly to stories I felt obligated to write that didn’t put them in a good public light. I can think of a few who never got over it, who never seemed able to understand it was nothing personal; it was just the job: you either gave people the unvarnished facts they had a right to know, or you had no right to call yourself a journalist. I recall one such news story I wrote once when Ovid Jackson was still Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP. Someone told me afterwards it “shook up” the Jackson camp quite a bit. But Ovid himself has never been anything but genuinely warm, open and friendly whenever I chanced to meet him here and there, in country, or around town. He has always been the man he is, and that is a true gentleman.

When Ovid was first elected the Liberal MP in this small-town, rural riding he garnered nationwide publicity because he happened to be black, and the area predominantly white. It spoke volumes about the quality of the people in the riding, but mostly it was a testament to Jackson’s warm personality and character, and his tireless work behind the scenes to do whatever he could to help people, especially when they needed it. He had cast his bread on the waters many times.

I was at the time willing to bet he was a shoo-in for a cabinet post in the Chretien government. It didn’t happen, but in retrospect Ovid Jackson as Minister of this-or-that, might not have been a good fit anyway. He was at his best working quietly behind the scenes, a good man standing tall on behalf of Canada in the world. It’s hard to imagine Jackson on his feet in the cut and thrust of Question Period, playing word games, throwing back verbal barbs.

He’s just too nice a guy for that.

Congratulations, Ovid, Member of the Order of Ontario. It’s a well-deserved award for a Right, Honourable gentleman.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2010.

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