Gary's commitment to community


No one has ever had to search far for adjectives to describe Gary Moffat. He was cantankerous, stubborn, opinionated, and difficult. He was also dedicated, caring, independent, strong, thoughtful and eager. Either way you looked at it, Gary was always ready to make a contribution to his circles and to the world at large and he did it loudly and uniquely. He was not someone to whom life happened – he was someone who jumped in and made life happen, for better or for worse.

Although in all my memories of Gary his fiercely individual character comes to the fore, where Gary’s true strength of character really showed was in his relationship to his community. I can recall having huge fights with Gary over the politics of one project or another – with him disputing the entire approach in his unique (but often-imitated) manner of fight-picking – only to have him show up to lend a hand when we needed to get something done. I remember days when Gary put more sweat into a project than the people who actually agreed with it. Through his actions he taught me a lesson in community, in how to build real solidarity that isn’t so fickle or rigid that political debate becomes a divisive principle. Gary displayed a generosity of spirit and of labour which is truly rare.

And it was that commitment to community that really drove Gary. He wanted a community that was lasting, dynamic and which could make a real difference in peoples lives. Sometimes his desire for a community overtook his common sense and he committed himself to any half-baked project that had a faint hope of bringing people together. I know he was disappointed more than once when his projects were diverted and distorted before they really had a chance to succeed. But here Gary taught me another lesson, and that was perseverance. He always picked himself up, dusted himself off, and got back in the ring.

I met Gary when I was sixteen, when he was working in the peace movement in Ottawa, publishing a newsletter and making his views known to anyone who’d listen. He was a true eccentric, but I appreciated his dedication to the issues and learned from his extensive knowledge of history. Many people probably haven’t read his history of US imperialism or his history of the Canadian Peace Movement. Fewer still have read his treatise on the funny pages, where he analyzed society through the comics. That was pure Moffat. Gary stood out for me in the way he managed to blend political analysis with a dry but biting sense of humour without skipping a beat.

I got to know him better over the years, especially after we both moved to Toronto and collaborated on a number of projects. Gary used to drop by my house daily to read the paper and engage anyone who happened to be around in a debate about the issues of the day, or why kids should be forced to read Shakespeare, or why every movie made after 1950 was crap. His incessant challenges to our political orthodoxy were infuriating and I often wondered why I put up with him. Years later I appreciate that, right or wrong, he never left an idea unquestioned, and I wish I’d had the wisdom at the time to do the same myself.

But working with Gary could be frustrating and difficult at times. I know that as we’ve attempted to get his foundation, Freedonia, off the ground, I’ve told friends more than once that I didn’t want to be involved – didn’t have the time, was frustrated by it, etc – but I’ve stuck it out because Gary was a close friend. I wanted to see him succeed. I didn’t want to see his possibly far-reaching project fall victim to the same problems which had plagued his attempts to create radical public spaces in Toronto. I also wanted to see him succeed because I’ve always known we’re working for the same things. I’ve never doubted his motivations or his integrity. You can’t always say that about a person and I appreciate more and more the people that have met that test over the years.

I’m going to miss Gary a hell of a lot. I’ve known him longer than most of my friends and I really thought we had a whole lot of time left together. Just a week before he died Sean called me up and said that in later years you never forge friendships with the same intensity that you do when you’re young. I think he’s right. I was lucky to meet Gary and forge a friendship when I did because he’s been part of that group that I’ve really counted on over the years. He was there for me and for all of us through a lot of tumultuous times. There’s no way of filling the gap that Gary has left.

Gary deserved to succeed. If anything, I’d like to make his project, Freedonia, a success so that the vision Gary had can at very least find fruition after his death. We may not be able to do everything Gary wanted but we can build on his example.

September 2001