A beautiful story of two lives intertwined over 40 years. Gary is my longest standing friend, we've seen it all and truth be told I've learned as much from him as he professes to have gleaned from me. That's what friends do for each other and in Gary I got the Barbadiest Bad Ass friend a guy could ever ask for. He sent me this note for my birthday and is his attempt to answer my daughter Amanda's question to try and describe her father. This is his response:
Happy Birthday James. I wrote this little story about you for Amanda. After Amanda asked me about you I knew I needed to say something. However, after writing it, it sounds like a story about me. I now realize I wouldn't be me without having you as my bestest friend ever. Nowadays they call it BFF
I have been meaning to write this for about a year or two now. We all think and act like we are going to live forever. The truth is no one knows exactly how much time we have. I got a call from a good friend to hear the news about my great friend Jim Button who had a nasty prognosis. This news shook me to the core as it did everybody.
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time Facetiming my best pal not even realizing he was really down. I couldn’t tell as he always remains positive and I’m somewhat self-absorbed. Any who, one day we were chatting and I was complaining about all the stuff I had to do which included getting some potatoes and corn for dinner, and Jim suggested that I send the kids to the store as they should be doing that sort of stuff and helping. So I hung up and walked in the living room and broke the news to my kids that they have to run to the corner store for Daddy for some potatoes and corn. The look of horror on their faces was priceless. “Why Daddy, how Daddy, where Daddy?” I said, “it doesn’t matter you can walk, ride your bikes or scooter, it doesn’t matter.” So they grab their bikes and the dog and shot off to the store. A minute later they were back and decided not to take the dog or their bikes, and they were off again on their scooters. I screamed “bring back my change.”
When they came back home, the look on their faces was priceless. They were filled with pride and confidence. Chase had just turned 12 and Kaya was 9 at the time. I smiled to myself and said “Jim is at it again.” You see, I use to think Jim was a connector, a guy who brings people together, let’s say gather, no pun intended, but I realize he is much more than that. Jim gently nudges people, softly suggests information that is best for them and helps them get to where they need to go. He gently guides people to reach their full potential. It’s a gift which connects people and enriches lives. He empowered my children that day.
Jim has many friends, and I am sure he has enriched the lives of all the people he knows. Not very many people can say that. He’s like an angel, however I still haven’t found the right words yet, but as I embark on this writing journey and write these words about my friend, I hope the words will come. Jim has taught me a lot in my life but the one thing that I cherish is, if you want a good friend, you have to be a good friend, and Jim is a good friend to many. I am certain that Jim has convinced the cancer cells to get along with the other cells in his body. He has convinced them to align themselves with peace, harmony and fellowship while he travels on his journey.
I met Jim in grade 4, I believe it was 1974. I don’t remember him at the beginning of the school year, but it seems like he appeared half way through the year. I really don’t remember a formal introduction either, I just remember a really small and pasty looking kid who I was certain I could beat up. I am quite certain he was the runt of the litter and I began by teasing my little friend, even though I wasn’t much bigger. I began by calling him Buxton boy, you know like the wallets. As if Button wasn’t a funny enough last name, I obviously lacked creativity, as you can do a lot with a Button. I think that he asked his neighbor Scott to get me to stop teasing, but I had big brothers who were tough, so Scott refused. I’m pretty sure we became friends after that as Jim found an alternative solution to my relentless badgering. This is how I remember it, however, Jim probably has a totally different experience. Since I’m the writer of this historical version, let’s go with mine. I have already mentioned that I’m self-absorbed, so this story about Jim, revolves around me.
As mentioned, I didn’t have a lot of friends, come to think of it, I may not have had any good friends at the time. I do remember getting invited to Jim’s house after school one day. We watched Gilligan’s island, Hogan’s heroes and a couple other after school shows. I got home really late and most likely got in trouble from my Dad. I was sold on the TV shows and introduced the after school TV shows to my brother and sister. I was also thrilled at meeting such a cool kid from school. I met some of his neighborhood friends and we hung out a lot from the get go.
I think we did a lot together, and in those days during the summer we just roamed freely. We were not in camp or any sports stuff so we had all the time in the world. Jim had everything at his house. He had a dishwasher, a garbage compactor, can opener, coffee maker, and in the bathroom a phone, shag rug and mirrors. I had never seen anything like this before. I still haven’t met anyone else with a garbage compactor, but as Mr. & Mrs. Button would say, it really makes a lot of sense. He also had a pool in the backyard, I remember getting thrown in the pool every day, even if I wore my bathing suit under my pants, I would still get thrown in. It was something that I couldn’t avoid and I got used to it. My mom didn’t want me to get my hair wet and filled with chlorine every day, but I couldn’t help it. I would get thrown in by the Buttons, big and small. I’m quite sure that I honed my swimming and treading water skills in Jimmy's backyard.
In Grade four, we were in the portable and had our first male teacher. I was late a lot and he would twist my ears, all the way around. I use to feel abused until I noticed that Mr. May abused Jim more. He loved whipping chalk at Jim and also stuffed him in the big garbage can head first. Our teacher definitely would have had a “time out’ by today's standards of public education. Jim and I would talk about everything and he shared all his ideas and hopes and dreams with me. I’m not sure if I did any talking or just listened the whole time, not. I know for certain during this time he became a really great friend. I think Allan joined the bunch and Tony a year later. We were all pretty much inseparable. I think the cool thing about having Jim as a friend was that he was always planning something. Whether it was a football game at the school, heading to the arcade or searching for bottles for money. We both loved sports even though we were quite small and we both liked money, making it, finding it anything would do. Another cool fact is that Jim would find money wherever we went.
Something that sticks in my memory is a talk we had at the Macs Milk local corner store. One hot summer's day after we would have cashed in our bottles or whatever extra change we had for some freezies or whatever we sat down at the gas station and talked about our future. I had never given this much thought as I live in the moment, and probably still do today. As it turns out, my good friend had his whole 5 -10-year plan. I was astonished. He told me that he plans to go to Royal Military college and finish high school in 4 years. In our day, we had a 5-year program. Being the competitive person that I am, I immediately made a plan for myself. I at the time decided to be a veterinarian and attend Guelph University, how ironic, and finish High School in 5 years since we always dreamed of going to Sir John A. Macdonald High School and we liked school. However, this taught me to look ahead and plan for the future and examine careers for my future. My parents had immigrated from Barbados and were not familiar with the education system in Canada and only suggested that I work hard and stay in school. Jim lived about a 1⁄2 block from Sir John A. MacDonald so the teenagers would always chase us and throw snowballs at us. We also would hang out there for countless hours and climb onto the school roof to collect tennis balls.
Well time went on as it always does and are final year as a Christie Cricket was fast approaching as we were both in the same class in Grade 6. I remember or sixth Grade teacher Ms. McFarlane looked scary but she turned out to be one of the nicest teachers I had at Christie Public. In this year we did a lot of work together as Jim and Pat had a flyer business which would deliver the weekly flyers and coupons and corporate promotions to the homes in the neighborhood. This was great as we would finally make some money. Jim found many creative ways to deliver the flyers to the homes and had a huge area to deliver and supply product and flyers to. On top of that he landed an awesome flyer job from local pizza guy who paid us 2 cents a flyer. Jim hired all of his good friends and we worked delivering to homes and apartment buildings for quite some time. It wasn’t till years later that we discovered that Jim and Pat were getting 3 cents a flyer. Jim simply explained he was a businessman. I just thought he was clever. This I learned about business and friendship and productivity and profit. I’m sure if we found this out before the job was completed, it wouldn’t had gone down so smoothly.
As always, my friend inspired me to look for my own business opportunities. We were at least 12 and loved the idea of earning and making money, furthermore we were allowed to go to the movies on our own and encouraged to pay for it ourselves. Therefore, I snagged this great paper route. It was a French paper called Le Droit with only like 12 or 14 papers to deliver but they were spread out over a larger area than normal. The money was great and the tips were even better and I got to brush up on my French. Jim would sometimes give me a hand with the route. One day we had this massive argument as I accused him of delivering the paper to the wrong house. He was adamant that he was right and I was wrong, so we had our first fight and we came to fisticuffs. That was it for me, my big ego (of which I still have today) couldn’t handle it and our friendship was over, it ended, caput. In retrospect this helps me as a parent today because we were only 12 and the emotions were real and the hurt is still remembered. The problem was a big deal for us at that age, and children’s issues should not be swept under the rug. Anyways, I told you this story could be more about me than James Alexander Button.
Well it turns out, this was my worst summer ever. We had a lot of the same friends so I decided to make some new friends and hopefully we would cross paths less that summer. I hung out with some other cats from school. Another great learning experience, as it turns out all of my new friends were quite boring, not as smart, witty, personable and charming as Jimmy and our crew. The conversations went flat and I was totally bored. In this moment I saw the greatness in Jim and the uniqueness he carries. He has been a great barometer for me to measure the quality of a person. He and our crew were top notch. This being said, I wasn’t going to apologize, even if I realized that Jim may have been right and delivered the newspaper to the right home. My big Ego wouldn’t allow me to swallow my pride and regain our friendship. I learned a lot that summer and the most important thing was, what a great choice I made to have Jim as my friend. There are lots of people out there, however, they may vary in quality.
That fall we were starting grade 7 at a new school. A middle school called Pinecrest Public school. We knew it was a lot further to walk to than all the other schools so far. I missed the first week of school because my mother took my sister and I for our first trip to Barbados Upon my return my brother informed me that Jim had saved me a seat in our Grade 7 class. I was so happy and relieved that the fight had ended. Jim obviously was the bigger kid again as he determined that our friendship was more valuable than the feud and a positive relationship is more valuable than a negative one. This I learned to look at the big picture with vision and projected outcomes. It was clearly futile to have a feud with a guy who shares the same friends, in the same class and is so casually cool.
By the time I arrived at Pinecrest a week later I had a slew of new friends. He also must have chatted up all the girls because a week later we were rock stars. Party invitation after party invitation. Life was good. I had a hard time keeping up with all the girls that had a crush on Jim. Although the girls were bigger, we didn’t really notice that we hadn’t grown that summer much. Everyone seemed to be growing except us. Maybe Jim too many ate too many French fries for lunch and I ate too much Eggos. We even met a kid who was smaller than us. Mark, and he was outgoing and charismatic enough to join the group and also run for head boy. We three formed the MuskaSquirts as our small stature enabled us to push the envelope on everything from fighting to free stuff. Ultimately our friends and our friendships grew. Garth joined the group around this time and he had to be home before the street lights went out. I think this was also the stage where Jim was enamored with The Lord of the Rings. I had no idea he had joined a secret club with other nerdy friends. However, Jim gently nudged me and suggest for me to read the novel The Hobbit. It just so happened to be the first novel I ever read without being forced to read by a teacher or for school. This gentle nudge taught me the beauty and escapism you can find in the pages of great books. (It just so happens 40 years later, I’m reading the novel with my son, go figure) We also joined the chess club.
In Grade 8, we had to pick our high school courses in and the high school guidance counselor Mr. Nelson, had his heart set on sending me to a vocational school, either Highland Park or some Technical School. At this point I was really glad I had these conversations with Jim as the counselor had me locked in his 5’ x 8’ office yelling at me to accept his plan. I was determined to stick to my plan and about attending Sir John A. I also told him I wanted to attend Guelph University and study to be a vet. He was dumbfounded. Thanks again Jim.
WE finally made it to Sir John A. I swear Jim was in his element. He suggested we try out for a lot of sports teams and hang out in the gym wing. Or should I say the Jim wing. Everyone loved us, even if we were not the best athletes at the time, because we still hadn’t grown
yet. The wrestling coach took a special interest in us as we were only 84 lbs. at the time and Mark was 75 lbs., so he wanted us on the team. Which really means he was guaranteed a few wins for the wrestling team, as usually there wasn’t anybody at the opposing school, small enough to fight us. Our friendship grew as well as our circle got bigger and bigger.
One of the courses that Jim suggested that I take was Grade 9 typing. You have to remember it was 1979 and straight guys did not take courses like that. His reasoning was simple, he said we would meet lots of girls and that in the future we will be more dependent on keyboards and typing will be a necessary skill. So I Am forever grateful that Jim suggested that I should learn the QWERTY keyboard. If I only knew back then the influence the keyboard and computers would have on our lives today, I would have taken it in grade 10. I am one of the few guys I know today who can type without looking at the keyboard. It’s amazing I haven’t written more stuff. No one finger hunting for me or Jim.
Ottawa kids rarely hung out with kids from Nepean, which at the time was the rich suburb that bordered Morrison Dr. I remember the day that Jim suggested that we should expand our horizon and hang out with a few of the Nepean kids to play football. He essentially was asking me to cross the border and expand my horizon again. So we met and hung out with Graeme and Keith. He specifically mentioned that Keith could help me in physics class since he had a 99% average. I reluctantly agreed but soon learned that people are the same wherever you go, and the friends across the border turned out to be just as awesome, and their houses were bigger.
In High School we tried out for all of the sports teams. Jim would tell me that he was going to play badminton in the commonwealth games and I was certain that I was going to be a pro NFL football player or a rock star. I still owe him free tickets to my national gig. We didn’t make the junior basketball team but made a whole bunch of other high school teams. We even resurrected the old high school curling team with the coaxing of our biology teacher, High school whizzed by and the five years were up in no time.
We didn’t really drink in grade 9 or 10 or understand why people would drink or even spend excessive amounts of money on stereo equipment. We were definitely high on life. My how times have changed. I got my first job in high school when I was 15 at Ponderosa Steak house making $2.15/hour as a dishwasher. Jim would sometimes visit me at work, cuz he was a 16 yr old with a car and would tell some of the people that I work with that he made $3.40/hr. After I got fired from Ponderosa Steak House, Jim help me get a job at the Officers Mess. I was finally making real money. After being devastated with my job loss I realized that Ponderosa was a crappy job and there are way better opportunities out there. What a great friend.
So Jim got his license and a car most likely on his 16th birthday and booted all of his high school buddies around in his dads ole red Pontiac Parisienne. He was the first in the group with his license and to have his own car. I think we started to grow this year too. He would drive us everywhere. After the Parisienne died him and his brother Pat bought a Russian
car. A Lada. I had never heard of a Lada until then. This little Russian car was super cool and Jim and Pat added a supped up car stereo which has probably added to my hearing loss
today. We were growing up fast and having so much fun. We always seemed to enjoy ourselves and took numerous camping trips, vacations and cottage weekends together. We even all attended night school together to upgrade our marks for university. (even night school was fun) I’m quite certain now that, this was Jim’s mandate, to have fun no matter what we are doing, whether it’s at work or play. This is something that Jim has taught me and a I carry it to this day, I always have fun no matter where I am or what I’m doing and try to do my best and do a great job.
I could go on and talk about all the fun we had at high school, but I’m guessing you get the
idea. My goal for this story is to share with you the influence or the little nudges Jim shared with me in this life we live. I didn’t end up going to Guelph and after we got a family dog, I lost interest in becoming a veterinarian. However, Jim went to Guelph and he ended up introducing me to a whole new crew of young awesome people who attended his University. A bunch of top shelf cats who are still very close today. I knew they were all special people when they all started to clean up the place we were at after a heavy evening of partying. I am grateful to Jim as these introductions have definitely increased my sphere of influence. I ended up going to Carleton University in Ottawa, which was kind of boring. We did a lot of University stuff including studying and visiting other friend’s campuses. Jim introduced me to traybogganining and a few other things without a helmet. He also insisted that I listen to the words of Neil Young, who is a great writer, because you really can’t be 20 on sugar mountain.
After University, we all started working and I guess we all started at the bottom of the totem pole. I started my career in Real S. Taitt and Jim started his career in advertising. I think Jim settled in Toronto and I stayed in Ottawa, my hometown. We did the work grind and we all had our hearts set on climbing up the corporate ladder. Jim worked at some really large advertising companies in Toronto and I worked away at Century 21, avoiding having to wear the gold jacket. We would always chat, share ideas and get together whenever he was in town. I soon realized that our friendship was effortless and no matter what we did, we always seemed to have fun.
A few more years past by and we found ourselves getting older, I had met and awesome girl named Sandra who I would spend most of my time with. I’m not sure if I ever asked but Jim would always volunteer his opinion, whether it was good or bad, but mostly it was always good, with a hint of wisdom. After meeting my girl, he mentioned that he thought she was awesome and totally endorsed my choice. I never asked him.
I was completely bored in Ottawa, so Jim gently nudged me and suggested that I move to Toronto, as there was going to be a vacancy at 400 Sammon Ave., as Patrick was moving
out. I always wanted to live in Toronto but lacked the courage to take the plunge. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I gave notice at my apt. and, quit my real estate and appraisal jobs and packed up the U-Haul cube van and headed to The Big Smoke. I would not have been able to make such a smooth transition without the help of Jim and his persuasive
nudging. When I arrived we were roomies along with another friend Graeme. Life was
good. Jim had some crappy ad job in Brampton or Branford or somewhere, really far and I knew he wasn’t happy but we didn’t talk much about that. He would often say, “wait for the weekend Gare” as he would always make fun plans for the weekend.
It couldn't have been more than a month later that Jim broke the news to me and told me that he was going to move to Calgary. He needed a change and Hal lived out there and he had a head full of dreams and big ideas that needed to get working on. I was shocked yet somewhat happy for him, as he drove his Hyundai across Canada. So here I was stuck in a new city, with no job and a not a whole lot of people to hang out with. I never knew this but Jim felt really guilty about getting me to move to Toronto and then leaving. For me, it was the best and smartest move I have ever done, and once again, he had a hand in changing my life for the better. I’m was able to fulfill many career goals with the move to Toronto and establish many great relationships.
Jim did leave me with one of his good friends, who soon became my new best friend. Carrie and I would hang out every Thursday and I would have lunch at the hospital where she worked. She really helped me get through the rough times in Toronto, and I smile to myself because once again, Jim had a silent role in my happiness. The transition for me was not an easy one, and I found myself at an all-time low point in my life, yet I was hanging out with the Bitove brothers (the owners of the new Toronto Raptors) every Thursday night and on the floor hanging with Isaiah Thomas (the coach) at the Raptors games at the Skydome. Life if funny.
I think around this time, Jim met Tracey Seagram. He would tell me that she is unlike any girl he has ever known. I knew she was the one. I have a few more teachable moments or gentle nudge moments that I would like to share and then I will end my tall tale of my good friend James Alexander Button. The more I write, the more this story sounds like it’s about me and my life. Being self-absorbed is not easy. There are so many things I can write about or share with you about Jim. The one thing I know for sure is that I have seen his friends grow and grow exponentially, and I have soon realized that I would have to share Jim with everyone because he touches so many lives.
I remember one-day chatting with Jim on the phone. His Event Group company was flourishing and he was engaged to be married. He asked me if I was saving my money, I said yeah, my new girl makes me save 10% of my income. He said that was great. After I hung up the phone I thought to myself, what a great person, no friend has ever asked me that before. No wonder he was the best man at every wedding, he really taught me if you want a good friend, you must be a good friend. How lucky I am to have such a great friend who has taken and interest in people's lives and helps to make them better. I wonder if he is self-absorbed too.
Jim is a super competitive individual and I am quite sure we competed with everything that we did. We competed in sports, with girls, school grades with photos in the yearbook. Anything that can be measured, we competed with. There is nothing that we haven’t bet over or competed with. I’m pretty sure I still owe him money. We even bet on the weather. He masterminded SuperJocks, Up at Steve's Triathlon and even his stag was filled with action packed fun and adventure and games.
Well at the house back in Toronto, the Landlord had told me that he’s going to sell the house so we would have to vacate. I realized then that everything was in Jim’s name, the lease, the phone, gas and hydro. He had trusted me to close all the accounts and take care of that old Toronto home. I was so looking forward to getting my own place, either a cheap studio apt or a basement apt. somewhere, anywhere. As we were having lunch in Huntsville at Jims Stag fest weekend, he suggested that I live with The Ringer aka Darrell. I didn’t really know Darrell at the time, but knew that he was had selected to help Jim win the Up @ Steve’s triathlon, and was aptly named the Ringer. I ended up moving in with Darrell in the Beach, and he was more than happy to show me how the other half lives.
My life was upgraded once again, and the lessons learned and the friendships attained have been invaluable. There he goes again, making my life better without me having to ask. It is just how he thinks about everyone. What can I do to make this person's life better, day better? To me that is the key to success, to happiness and the meaning of life. If we all took the time to think of others, the world would be a much better place. I could write so much about my friend. I know for sure that he will NEVER be forgotten. He has touched my life and cemented a love that will last forever. I hate that fact that Jim has cancer. It almost seems that we should be invincible, but we are not. I feel like there are so many things that I have left out of this
story. The little things that matter. I couldn't have found a better friend to grow up with. I couldn’t have found a better person to compete with. I even laugh at the silly way I write the number 8. Jim makes two circles to make his eights, I always said that was inefficient and the one stroke way is faster. Now I write my eights with two circles just like two strokes. Life is funny, life is beautiful and definitely is a circle of life.
When Amanda asked me to tell her about her Dad, I didn’t know what to say, so I write this to let her know that her father is one of the great men of this world. He would have been a great man in Middle Earth too. He is the energy that heroes are made of. He is a great friend to many and a positive role model to many. I wrote this story about Jim, however, when I read it, it sounds like a story about myself. I realize that I would not be the person I am today, without having had Jim in my life. So thank you my friend, you are that firm tree with an abundance of roots, and there are no branches without the roots.
I love you Gary.
Gary is one of those beautiful humans that looks at life with fresh eyes each and every day. I think we can all learn from him. And if you want to buy or sell your home and you live in Toronto...GARY REAL S TAITT