By Steve Galea
The recently built house, on the north side of the village of Haliburton, remains a work in progress. Phone issues have to be dealt with, furniture and décor need to be placed, gardens and deer fences are waiting to be planned. The hundreds of small things that turn a house into a home must all fall into place.
For Elaine Bell, making that house a home, and embracing this new phase of her life, will happen without the support and thoughtful input of her cherished husband of 31 years. Jack Bush’s 21-month battle against metastatic lung cancer came to an end at the hospital in Haliburton, with his peaceful death on August 17, 2021. He was 85.
In many ways, Jack lived a wonderful life surrounded by art and creativity. His father was the renowned Jack Bush, one of Canada’s most celebrated painters. His brother wrote and sang the theme song for the iconic TV show, The Littlest Hobo. Another brother is an artist. Elaine is an accomplished musician.
Jack spent a lifetime making use of his own creativity too. His career in the advertising world started when he was hired as a copywriter at the age of 20. By the time he retired 45 years later, he was a Creative Director and had worked in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, where he left his mark on the pop culture of the time. If you saw, heard, or read a TV, print, or radio ad in those days, the odds are good that Jack had played a part in it. He even participated in a City of Toronto bid for the Olympic games.
All that creativity found a home in Haliburton County in 2000. That’s when Jack and Elaine bought a house on County Road 1 and started a bed and breakfast that they ran for several years.
Once settled, Jack became one of those quiet but important participants in this community. You might not have known him, but he left his subtle influence in many ways.
If you read the Echo, between 2002 to 2009, you benefitted from Jack’s expert copy editing. Former Echo editor Martha Perkins recalls that Jack phoned one day to express concern regarding editing errors in the paper.
“When you are running a paper and the stories and deadlines are coming quickly, it’s easy to miss little errors, no matter how many times you re-read a story,” she said. “And the last thing you want is for people to call and point out the things that you got wrong that you cannot fix. So, after some discussion, I told Jack that I would welcome him coming in and pointing out our mistakes while we still had a chance to fix them. I said you can bring your red pen every Tuesday and show up and help – and he did.”
Perkins said that Jack’s former career, in which clear, concise communication and brevity were paramount, made him an ideal addition to the team. More than that, she felt that he actually enjoyed coming in every week and helping out.
“I think he really liked the feeling that he was needed,” she said
Jack’s message was simple: “Do people a favour. Keep your sentences short. Keep your idea clear.” That eventually resonated throughout the newsroom.
Perkins said his red pen and “Jackisms” had a strong influence on her and the reporters and made the paper better. Many of his more important bits of advice were taped to walls as not-so-gentle reminders. Some, I believe, are still there.
“We had other copy editors, and sometimes there are different opinions on punctuation and on how to convey an idea, but what I respected about Jack was that he could always explain why he edited something the way he did. He strove for clarity.”
Perkins confessed, “He is still a constant voice in my head when I write.”
Students at Stuart Baker Elementary School also benefited from Jack’s quiet altruism and love of reading and the language. He volunteered 12 years as a reading buddy to students there, before illness required him to quit. When Jack talked about this, his face lit up and it was clear that he got just as much out of it as the students did.
Right up to this year, Jack also used his considerable advertising industry skills, working behind the scenes to promote the popular Haliburton Concert Series. This was his 10th year of donating time and expertise to the event by writing print and radio ads, as well as brochures and letters to subscribers.
Through the years, he continued to be creative and, up until recently, expressed that need in beautiful photos of the natural world. Many of them were taken along the rail line near their first Haliburton home.
“He loved seeing animals and took joy in watching them, but he never saw a moose,” Elaine said.
(He often joked to the author that he did not believe they existed.)
Nevertheless, the photos were excellent.
“Excellence in writing and photography was his inheritance,” she added. “Growing up in his family, it was as if he had no other choice but to be talented and artistic.”
When he first got news of the illness in 2019, he told Elaine, “If this is it, I’ve had a great life,”
He maintained his unassuming dignity, sense of humour, wry smile, and sense of joy throughout his sickness. He also told Elaine that he wanted to get to the new house. And he did.
One of his last great creative legacies was proposing that the front door of the new house be painted bright yellow. Elaine thought he had “lost it” at first. But she soon grew to love it. I’d like to think it is because the door is like the man – cheerful, unique, and bright.
Before his passing, he told Elaine, “I think you are going to have a really nice life.”
That was something he learned a lot about in their time together.
Jack and his broad smile, quick wit, and famous red pen will be missed by his friends from his Echo days and, undoubtedly, by others whose lives he touched.
May he rest in peace.
By Steve Galea