John Cole has adopted our family. But like ours he has adopted many others. When there is a problem such as a plugged toilet, keys locked inside the house, a furnace that won’t work, the first thing I do is to reach for the phone to call up John. He is this burly young seventy something, who rides in his van and “does good”. John does not attend parties, he goes on “missions of mercy”. He is our guardian angel and has been for so many people I know for so many years. After all who would arrive at an airport armed with coats to welcome an immigrant family dreading their return to Canada after a holiday in balmy India. When we arrived at the house from the airport that January 2000, snow banks piled 8 feet high by the side of our streets, we joyfully noted that this beloved man had cleared our entire driveway with our antiquated snow blower! We also then found out that John had wired our house up against security breaches so his pager would go off if someone attempted a “break in”
John was born and raised in Toronto in a white Anglo Saxon protestant family. He trained to be an electrician. He has worked at several exciting locales, done amazing and daring work in this city that he loves and is chock full of stories of his many adventures. I have spent so many afternoons sipping tea and listening to John’s inspiring stories, which told me how he pushed the envelope every time in his pursuit of excellence in everything he did. But it is not John’s style to brag. He is modest about his accomplishments and just brushes off compliments with a grunt.
A friend introduced me to John 6 years ago. He just adopted our family and took us under his wing. From the very first day, he sat at our table eating the food we ate. John loves rice and curd, a South Indian staple, and will seldom refuse the offer. A humanitarian, John embraces people of all races, creed and colour with equal love and respect and is animated and happy that his home, Toronto, is a veritable microcosm of the United Nations. When my friends and family arrive in this city, frightened new immigrants, John embraces them and goes all out to show off to them all the sights in his beloved city. He moves their stuff from one temporary home to another till they get settled, gets them road maps, frequently calls on them to find out if they need anything, and generally watches over them.
John is a consummate intellectual. He always stimulates me to think creatively, tells me about exciting new developments in science, shows me his many innovations and explains to my befuddled brain how they work. When our daughter wanted a parachute made as part of her physics project, John was so excited, he called her everyday to find out how she was doing and then could not help arriving at the house one day a parachute in hand. I cannot number the science toys he has enriched her with. John has taught my husband to paint, to varnish, to fix simple problems around the house. There was one time when my husband and I had bought a hood to be placed over our oven. Not quite sure how to approach this project, even after very clear instructions from John, my husband procrastinated. Well John let it go for a few days. However, after that, he could not take the waiting anymore and one day when we got back home from work, we found the hood had been fixed. People who have not met John truly believe that he is a figment of our imagination. Who in this day and age gives so unconditionally, without expectation, but just with a view to making people happier. But when they see my unique altar on which I have placed my Hindu Gods, the fabulous lighting in my basement with a fancy combination of switches, they know that a genius has been at work.
John loves the radio, television and CB Radio. He is a great admirer of Gandhi and Mother Theresa. He is the most open minded person I know. He is committed to social justice. He visited India once and did not go sightseeing, as most people would have done. He visited the factories, wired up schools and buildings so they would have electricity and learnt from watching fisher-folk haul their catch of the day from the sea. With his power of observation, his memory, his interest in human beings and how they adapt themselves with the help of technology, simple or complex, his compassion, he saw and did more during the 6 weeks he was there, than I did in all the 20 years I lived there. John is the first one to send cheques out when a humanitarian disaster strikes some remote corner of the globe. To this day I carry his many inventions, such as communications devices to be used as teaching aids at schools for poor orphan children in schools in India, when I travel on my biannual trips.
Words cannot do justice to this man, our beloved friend. He gives me hope and inspires me and everyone whose life he has touched with his example.
John died in 2014 of old age. He was 87 years old.