On Saturday, when Jack Layton is laid to rest, Janet Amsden will be wearing orange.
Donning the bright hue is her way of saluting the federal New Democratic Party leader who died of cancer on Monday at age 61.
Since 2005, Layton had made at least one trip a year to the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission riding, always attending the annual summer barbecue.
Amsden, who is president of the riding association, was always surprised that he arrived with no entourage or handlers, who kept an eye on the clock.
“He’d just sit down and ask you how you were? He wasn’t working the room. He was just like a friend,” said Amsden.
Layton’s death comes just months after he steered the NDP to official Opposition status in the House of Commons, a first for the party, which Layton had led since 2003.
Layton had fought prostate cancer since 2010, but in July, announced he faced a second, undisclosed cancer.
He wrote a letter to Canada barely 48 hours before his death, ending it with the words: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” His letter was so powerful, said Amsden.
“Just the idea that a man on his death bed would take the time to write and console other cancer survivors and pass the message on. I think the reason he was so effective was because he believed so profoundly in what he was doing.”
Mike Bocking, who ran as a NDP candidate in the riding in three federal battles, first met Layton in 2003 and hosted both him and his wife Olivia Chow when they visited.
The couple took in the Maple Ridge Caribbean Festival in 2008 and also celebrated their anniversary locally.
“He felt it was part of his job to be building the party at every opportunity,” said Bocking.
“He was endlessly optimistic and really good-natured. That was infectious with people. It turned them on to the NDP. One of the reasons I ran several times, apart from the fact that I shared NDP values, was the idea of potentially being able to work with a leader like him.”
Layton will be the second Opposition leader in Canadian history to be given a state funeral.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Opposition Liberal leader when he died in 1919.
“I think the best way to pay tribute to Jack is to build up his legacy, continue to move the NDP to be really inclusive, welcoming and bring in new ideas and new people,” said Bocking.
Layton’s body will lie in state in Ottawa and Toronto before his funeral Saturday.
The funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. To convey condolences to Layton’s family, Canadians can visit commemoration.gc.ca.