In life, there is death. Sounds trite and true, at the same time. But, death leaves us often angry, often sad, and sometimes in awe.
When John Alexander died in Barrie two weeks ago, the effect rippled through this community. John’s life touched thousands of people. His death was premature. And those who knew John expressed awe at his life.
John Alexander drove through Barrie for most of his life as his family headed north from Oakville to the family cottage on Lake Cecebe. As a cottage kid, he got to know a lot of town kids in Huntsville. When his brother started dating a town kid, John’s social circle grew. He became like one of the gang during the summer months.
When he graduated from Oakville Trafalgar High School, he headed to Queen’s University, along with his best Huntsville friend, Dave Lough. Dave went into medicine; John went into law. He was called to the Bar in 1969 and arrived in Barrie to work for Crown Attorney John Murphy. John’s wife Elfie gained employment as a legal secretary in Bruce Owen’s Law Firm and Donna Hamilton joined the firm shortly after. John Alexander’s longtime Huntsville buddy, Rob Hamilton, had moved into business in Barrie and it was logical the two couples would grow a sturdy friendship.
John plied his legal knowledge in the Crown Attorney’s office for 14 years before becoming Crown as John Murphy retired. He gave another 20 years to the office before giving way to retirement himself.
John exemplified ‘care’ in its finest sense. It was up to him to know all points of law. It was up to him to have sturdy, respectful relationships with literally thousands of police officers, from 17 different police jurisdictions. His territory was broad and his commitment was unparalleled.
He balanced the community’s need for fair representation with his own love of living his life. John Alexander didn’t waste a single minute. He excelled at virtually every sport he touched: hockey (a huge love), tennis, golf, skiing, sailboarding, horseshoes. Horseshoes? Yes! He mobilized his Kempenfelt Dr. community in a neighbourhood horseshoe tournament.
He was actually Canadian Junior Waterski Champion in 1955/56. He loved to use his body to its physical maximum. He used his brain in the same way. But, he was not without humility. He told his neighbour and good friend, George Taylor, that he waved over a waterski boat one day because the driver was towing the skier without a second person to serve as look-out. He explained the law; he told them who he was. They told him to F.O. and took off. Well, so much for that!
John and Elfie rejoiced at becoming Great-Uncle-John and Great-Aunt-Elfie. And they built their own cottage close to the family compound on Lake Cecebe. As John retired in 2004, Rob Hamilton called on his lifelong friend to conduct his swearing-in ceremony when he became mayor of Barrie. Team-mates on an Oldtimers team, the two played hockey regularly with several lawyers, some policemen, and the business guys like Rob. It meant a lot to have John conduct that ceremony.
What can you say about a life lived well? That he was a great guy? That he was a good person? You can use all those superlatives with John and they’re true. Everybody liked him and everybody (except the errant waterskiers) respected him. He was a fair, honest guy.
What did John give to this community? Stability. He gave us law, order, justice. He gave us honesty, truthfulness. He gave his office the dignity it deserved. And he was a human being in the hockey changeroom.
He had just two years of his retirement plan… summers at the cottage, winters in North Carolina. A persistent sore throat brought him back from the south and he was diagnosed in January with cancer at the base of his tongue. Radiation proved unsuccessful. John faced this with the same serene grace that he gave to everything. When he died on June 9, many smiled at the thought of John meeting up with Barrie’s famous Judge Gord McTurk, up there in some celestial courtroom.