Eulogy: Thanks Tooker, by Jim Gurnett


Tooker would have appreciated the marketing value of his sixty seconds on the CFRN 6 PM news or the front page of The Journal when he died. But Tooker’s life and values were firmly on the street with ordinary people. If there is one image of Tooker that captures it all, it is him straddling his bike at the side of a road listening and nodding to someone talking to him, getting the street news.

As someone who was encouraged many times in many ways by the powerful spirit of this man, I want to offer him the small gift of a few lines of thanks in Edmonton Street News. That’s where he’d really feel at home.

Tooker Gomberg is the best evidence I know for the truth of the line from an Ann Mortifee song: We are born to live, not just survive. He lived with exuberance and integrity in a way very few do.

Tooker died in Halifax in early March but the good he did in this world will continue to ripple out for a long time to come. Many people will only remember the dramatic actions – the arrests and provocative gestures and controversial accusations. The smug fat cats in power liked to speak condescendingly of his ‘stunts’. But Tooker was smart enough to know that others could only come along quietly afterwards and get things done if someone created awareness there even was an issue. Tooker was no publicity junkie wanting to see himself on the news. He was just a smart guy who understood that to reach people you need to get media coverage and to get media coverage you have to be part of a story that’s interesting enough to be worth covering.

What he did was tough work. But without his brave leading, many others would never have come to understand large political and economic issues as mattering in their lives, or as matters where they could help make a difference. And the world would be a more dangerous place to live than it is.

I don’t want to review a lot of that stuff about the public Tooker, much as I wish he would still be around to be a “Greenspiration” to me for a long time to come.

I want to say thanks to him for a more important reason. Tooker knew that the bottom line was that life is all about people, caring about the ordinary little guys about whom no one else much gives a damn. Tooker, thanks for spending an afternoon back in the early 80s, when I had brought a class of junior high kids to Edmonton from northern Alberta, presenting a seminar on bike maintenance and city riding safety, patiently responding to their goofy questions respectfully, and skilfully weaving into your practical information about keeping your gears adjusted some important lessons about why caring for the environment is everyone’s business. Two or three years later when I’d meet some of those kids they still remembered things you told them – I’m pretty sure they didn’t remember anything most of us taught them in school that long.

Thanks for sitting there on the sidewalk outside Canada Place during the bitter cold days of winter in the first Gulf War in the early 90s, talking with passion to angry hawks who returned your facts and reason with stupid insults so many times. The rest of us didn’t have the guts to put our comfort and social acceptability on the line like you did. We knew children dying in Iraq was a bad thing, but we didn’t care enough about those far-away unknown little people to seriously inconvenience our lives or reputations for them, so we just came down to bring you snacks.

Thanks for peddling across the city through a snow storm one December Sunday afternoon in the mid-90s to light a candle at The Hope Foundation to declare your conviction that hope isn’t about whether or not things turn out how we want, it’s about believing that it all makes sense no matter how it turns out. You arrived soaked and exhausted, but none of your council colleagues were able to make it through with their autos – or just didn’t think it was important enough to bother trying. You talked about hope as a real everyday thing, not a theoretical construct for research. And you lived like you knew that to be true.

Thanks Tooker for the dignified way you created a real role and place for a kid barely 20 and keen on politics who got involved in your mayoral campaign in 1998. You didn’t do the usual and pass him off to some other member of the campaign team to give him a mindless job stuffing envelopes or pounding stakes. You took time many days to sit and visit, to demonstrate that you thought that kid and his ideas mattered. That kid was my son and I know his own deeply held and lived convictions about what matters have been nurtured by your warm supportive time with him, the confidence you showed in him.

It’s hard to stop what were going to be a “few lines”. Thanks for the energy that flowed from those scores of email updates you have sent out over the years from every part of the world as you entered battle after battle and shared your excitement and your scars. They always seemed to arrive just when I would be bogged down and getting discouraged with some matter at hand. They would help me put things back in perspective and get up and at it again. And thanks for that delicious bit of mischief that ran through so much of all you did – if anyone demonstrated the truth of Bob Bossin’s line that just because you’re trying to change the world it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun, you did.

May the bike paths where you are be smooth and the waters run clear. Thanks again Tooker. You’re too soon gone and will be long missed.