Gary Moffat, Gentle Giant, mutual aid advocate

young garyIf you knew Gary, you will know that 'Gary stories' frequently involve imitating his basso voice and deeply cynical delivery, and generally begin with an impression of his Eeyore-esque moan.

When I first met Gary, a former teacher, he was running his pet project 'The Community Switchboard' at the ACT (Against Cruise Testing) for Disarmament Spadina Road office/club, 'The Fallout Shelter'. He was a huge man with a thick shock of grey hair and an infrequent (but adorable) smile, who on principle wore his few clothes until they wore out before buying new ones, and shunned transportation of any kind, walking everywhere. Gary was an inveterate complainer, but his most frequent complaint was that nothing made after 1950 was of any quality or value, and he often harkened back to 'the good old days'. Gary strongly believed in the principle of Mutual Aid, and his abiding political effort at the time involved administering a 'barter system' in Toronto. But Gary also had hopes of one day opening a free café and free store to distribute political literature, food, and other goods based solely on interest and need. He loved to quote obscure dialogue, and sing snatches of hoary old classics and showtunes at full bellow. At the time, Gary was just one of many strange people I was meeting in the world of anti-authoritarian social justice work.

In the ten or so years that followed, Gary was a frequent guest at my home on Markham Street. Gary visited almost every day to read our copy of the paper, to use the telephone, to enjoy my Mom's cooking (of which there was always plenty to share), to see if he could goad any of us younger people into an argument (which he almost always could), and to surreptitiously cuddle one of our many cats - particularly his feline twin, Tuxedo. Oh yes, and to doze off, thinking that no one had noticed.

Gary was always ready to share whatever he had himself. We borrowed his music, comic books, and video copies of old movies. Gary passed his love of many of these things on to Kevin and myself. Although I'm not sure if he realized it, it was Gary who first introduced me to traditional Irish music. When Kevin and I and several other friends finally started performing traditional Irish music, I think Gary was deeply pleased, and I hope that he credited his own influence.

Kevin and I also worked closely with Gary for about five years - and endured many meetings with him - as members of the Ecomedia Collective. During this period we fought and disagreed with Gary about almost everything. His submission of an article was almost always cause for protracted arguments, at the end of which Gary would invariably threaten to quit. He never did, though.

For those of you who ever held an Ecomedia Toronto Bulletin in your hand, it was very likely that Gary delivered it to the spot where you picked it up. Without Gary, Ecomedia would have had no circulation whatsoever. His delivery efforts were gargantuan, and largely thankless.

I think Gary took secret glee in the sport of offending us with outdated ideas and assumptions. But in truth, despite all the ways in which we confounded him with our counter-ideas and insistences, Gary did struggle to understand and overcome racism, sexism, and homophobia. Many people of his generation (and others since) have never bothered to do so.

I rarely saw Gary after I moved out of Markham Street in 1993. I periodically worried about him after I found out he was losing his eyesight, and I often enjoyed bumping into him on the street: the combination of his meditative deep focus while walking and his failing eyesight meant that you had to practically tackle him to get his attention. The last time I saw Gary was in Kensington Market in the spring of 2000, when he told me that he would have to decline the invitation to my wedding as he was going out west, perhaps to stay.

In late 2000, Kevin asked me if I would join the Board of Directors of the foundation Gary had endowed as a benefactor. Named for one of his favourite movies, the Freedonia Foundation would fund projects in keeping with Gary's commitment to social change, and his deep conviction that grassroots, cooperative economic alternatives and environmentalist and anti-authoritarian efforts would help make the world a better place. As someone who cared for Gary and understood something of his political vision, I felt an obligation to volunteer for the Freedonia Board, to help ensure that the Foundation Gary endowed would proceed in a way that he would be happy with, and to lend my skills to the endeavour. I had even been (sort of) looking forward to being in meetings with Gary again. After so long, I wanted the chance to know firsthand whether and how much he had changed, and to hear his familiar - but somehow dear - voice and complaints. I wanted to tease him about missing out on my wedding buffet. I wanted to know what he thought of the Irish Peace Process, and my involvement. I wanted to hear stories of how happy he was that he had relocated out to Denman Island, and I wanted to reiterate my invitation to him to come visit me in Ireland.

I can't believe he's gone.

Gentle giant. Committed walker. Lover and collector of comic books, movies, and music dated prior to 1950. Eccentric and argumentative. Frequently grumpy and disillusioned. Unafraid of grunt work. Committed to social change. Committed to cooperative economics and bioregionalism. Committed to living simply. Committed to sharing his financial resources with social movements so that they can grow. Self-avowed anarchist and anti-authoritarian. Gary may have been our very own 'Eeyore', but Gary was all these other things too.

Gary Archibald Moffat, rest in peace my friend.


September 17, 2001