27 May 2019

Simon Lono , 1963-2019

Simon Lono  - husband, father, grandfather, advocate, orator, writer, mentor, friend  - died Friday, May 24, 2019.  
He was 56.  
When our friends are alive, we do not spend time thinking about the past.  We do not think about how we met them, about all the things we did with them, or why it is that we like them.

When they are alive, we do not need to remember because they are there, every day.

We only feel a need to remember, once they are not there any more.

Simon Lono’s family and friends spent Saturday as they are likely to spend a lot of days from now on.  They thought about him, remembered when they first met him, all the things they had done together, why they loved him.

Simon is dead.

And so, we remember.

We recall.


As if the memories will make the hard truth go away.

As if the memories will replace all of the things that could have been or would have been.

But that will never be.

Because there is a hard truth.

Simon is dead.

Killed by a rare disease.

In itself, entirely fitting.

He did not go easily.  He did not go quietly.  He did not go without being Simon.

The last time I saw Simon he had just finished negotiating with one of the doctors who gave him their very best care.  He was negotiating for soup.  The medication he was taking made it almost impossible for him to eat.  The doctors were feeding him another way, but he wanted something on his tongue so that he could taste it, savour it, even if it was something from the hospital kitchen.

I do not know for sure, but I suspect Simon persuaded her.  He got a bit of soup even though he knew from bitter experience what the physical price would be for the moment of pleasure.

He was good at that: persuasion.

Simon knew how to talk to people in a way they would understand so that they would eventually come to see his point of view.

It was not a learned skilled, although he studied it and honed it.  It was not something that came out of books.

He was born with it.

Simon came by his skills the way we all become who we are.  He got them from his parents.  Simon pere was the son of Italian immigrants. He fought for Canada in the Second World War.  He married Yolande, the daughter of a Quebecois family so old, so long on the land, there were trees and rocks and soil in the family tree if you went back far enough.

They moved to Newfoundland, where Simon Lono set up a roofing business and made a good living putting the roof on all sorts of buildings.  Lono’s put the copper roof on the Confederation Building. Simon fils used to tell the story of going by the shop on the road to the airport – apartments are there now – where the craftsmen would be cutting and forming the metal on the huge floor of the workshop.  He was fascinated by the work and the people doing the work and wanted to learn about it.

Simon the son was like Simon the father.  Gregarious, full of life, and humour. Happiest with people around him.  Passionate in everything and about everything. From his mother, Simon the son got another way of dealing with people, with charm and grace, and from both he got a love of food and cooking.  From them both he got the importance of family, good or bad, good times or bad times.  He got from them his openness, his sincerity, and his laughter. 

In hospital, when he was not negotiating for a taste of hospital soup or regaling the nurses who cared for him, Simon was feeding one or another of his many great passions.  

Keeping up on political events locally and around the world.  

Technology. Simon bought a 3D printer just before he went to Nova Scotia for the transplant and after he came home, Simon had a software package and all the materials to start making things.  He was ready make something.  Anything.

Space flight.  Simon was looking forward to the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing so intently there was no way he had not seen anything about it online. 

And collecting recipes for when he got out.  Simon even had plans for a line of barbecue sauces that he had already named Mama Lono’s. 

Simon taught himself to barbecue the way barbecue is done properly, in the southern states.  Talk to him during the summer and you would get the description of the latest venture in the newly acquired, high-end barbecue.  Of the roast on the lower level with a brisket above to drip juices down onto the roast for extra flavour.  He was almost giddy when he got a rack to fit the barbecue that allowed him to mass produce chicken wings and legs.

He made food to eat but most of all, Simon made food to share. He was not concerned for all the health warnings about red meat and fats.  He believed firmly that life was for living, fully, richly, and enthusiastically.  So he did.

I do not remember when I first met Simon Lono.  It was so long ago that the memory does not come no matter how hard I have tried.  He has always been there.  Others have an easier time.   

Like the one mutual and dear friend who happily shared the story with me on Saturday about how Simon got him involved in a campus election. They were both involved with the CSU, the students’ union.  The campaign was lacklustre and the candidate lost.  A few days later Simon called to invite the buddy along to a party at the failed candidate’s house.  At some point, the party degenerated, and the townies started to make fun of people from outside St. John’s and their accents.  Simon, not one to let such things go, sorted them out, and apologized to his buddy.

Decent, honest, and principled, said the buddy in his story.

Those three words turned up a lot on Saturday in the flurry of private messages about Simon. They are words Simon would never use to describe himself because there was not a bone in Simon’s body that would allow him such an egotistical moment.  But they are words that the rest of us know made up Simon’s bones and sinews and soul.

They are why Simon was proud of the time he spent working for a decent, honest, principled politician. He said so often, usually privately, especially when one politician or another in the province proved themselves to be the opposite. 

But he did not say that as often as you might think.  Simon loved politics because it was about people.  He understood that people come in all sorts and, while they sometimes faltered, they did their best and for good reasons. Simon was a proud supporter of the Liberal Party, but he recognized that decency, honesty, and principle were not only for him and his Liberals.  

His own words say it best:

“Sorry but when people believe that their political party is the only one which contains politicians with integrity, credibility and substance, they are simply wrong. I understand the frustration (I've been there) but it's simply not true.
“I've known too many people in too many parties over too many years to simplistically categorize political people into good or bad, worthy or unworthy, based on their party affiliation.
“No party has a monopoly on integrity, credibility and substance or, on the other hand, foolishness, craven idiocy or grasping self-service. All parties contain people that have more than a little of all those things, just like any other human institution.”
Simon did not just work behind the scenes in politics.  He ran as a candidate provincially and municipally.  Others won. But what we should remember about those failed attempts is what Simon stood for when he out his name on the ballot and asked for support.

As a municipal candidate, Simon championed a code of conduct for councilors.  Act in the public interest. Behave in an ethical, open, and transparent manner. Conduct public business in a civil and respectful manner. Maintain open communications with citizens of St. John's and staff of the City.  That was what Simon had seen growing up, it was what he believed and it was how Simon behaved.    

He also wanted the city to have an auditor general that would help councillors behave according to those principles.  He was proud to serve on the committee that examined how to put such an officer in place.

Simon could put his principles to practice.  He was a master of persuasive arts. He completed an undergraduate degree in communications in Rhode Island.  He taught public speaking, coached both novice and experienced debaters alike, inside politics and out. 

In the 2005 municipal campaign, Simon also taught old politicians a thing or two.  In a campaign that centred on crumbing municipal infrastructure, a water main break in the East End offered an opportunity.  Simon seized it.

Simon called local media and did an interview with Mike Connor’s from NTV on the spot.  I went along as much for moral support as anything else.  What I got was a lesson.

The night Simon’s media coverage of the 15-foot-high waterspout appeared, city council was in heavy damage control mode. Council crews scrambled from sight when the cameras arrived and - surprise, surprise - a geyser that was apparently unfixable until a new part arrived and couldn't be tampered with for fear of cutting off water to businesses and residents suddenly vanished. The thing was gone the next day and fixed within two.

Mayor Andy Wells called him a nitwit.

And at that moment, Simon knew he’d won the battle even if he lost the campaign.

Simon the candidate was just another version of Simon the man.  And Simon as a politician would have been the same as Simon the citizen. He worked with his neighbourhood association.  He helped to build the Lantern Festival.  When he found out that he had a rare disease, Simon became an advocate for the cause.  He worked nationally on behalf of people who were too few to make a loud enough noise.  He made speeches, talked on open line shows,  met quietly with politicians to make the case for funds.

Simon was no saint. He had an impish side.  One of his favourite bits of impishness was a banner he put up at the Health Sciences Complex.  It is still there on the yellow brick road raising awareness of a rare disease.  Fed up with pointless bureaucracy, Simon went in one day and put up the banner, without permission. Simon used to check on it when he had an appointment and proudly announced that it had lasted.  It is still there.

Decent, honest, thoughtful, gregarious, humorous, kind, talented, passionate.  These words describe Simon and he brought them all to everything.

Of all his passions, family was Simon’s greatest. You could tell by the way he spoke of them all. Like his mother and father. The way Simon dealt with his mother was especially memorable.  He would speak to her in English.  She would reply in French and they would go back and forth like that, each understanding the other perfectly.  Simon was fiercely proud and supportive of his brothers and talked proudly of them and their families. 

Simon had two children - Simon and Diana - both of whom he adored.  You could never speak to Simon without hearing about them. He gained a second family through Deirdre, who became the centre of his life, and their triumphs too became something he would joyously tell you about.

Simon and Dei met in one of those delightful, romantic accidents that do happen. Both single after failed partnerships, their sons - Simon and Deirdre’s Sam - became friends in school.  Simon junior was going on about his friend one day and after a few questions, Simon senior realised that he knew Sam’s mother from years ago.

The two met, went out, and fell madly in love. Simon had never been happier. Simon moved into Dei’s house on Barnes Road where they navigated the sometimes tricky waters of blended families. He grumbled through repairs to the house, using the skills of managing tradesmen he had learned from his father.  City Hall bureaucracy was not so easy to master but things worked out.

Together, Simon and Dei made a home and a family very much larger than they started with.  It was a family some of whom were joined by blood, others by marriage, all within an enormous and expanding circle of friends who were basically treated like family too. Simon loved Deirdre’s Sarah and Sam and now their partners as much as he did Simon and Diana. He was a proud grandfather. 

The cats on the other hand were not so fortunate.  Many were the phone calls interrupted by cursing and swearing as one cat or another whined to be let out, whined to be let back in or attacked Simon’s bare feet as he padded around the house in his robe,  the cordless phone shoved up to his ear.

Simon and Dei lived together for a long time after Simon first moved in.  They were happy and they were content.  That’s why it was a surprise one day to get a phone call from Simon.  He was not his usual self.  I suspected something was wrong.

It was.

He wanted to get married.

He’d never done it before and so he was nervous. He wanted to get a ring and needed advice.
Simon wanted it to be perfect.

If I did not know how much Simon loved Deirdre until that point, I knew it then.

Of course, there was no doubt about how much the two loved each other. To old married couples, they were sickening.  They kissed.  They hugged.  They held hands.  There were gentle touches to a shoulder or face.

And there was the way they talked.

Not just to one another but the conversation itself.  They fit together perfectly, even in politics, although she came from a staunchly Tory background, and Simon a Liberal one of course.

And so, we talked about them getting married.  I gave him some ideas.  I think I told him it wasn’t necessary because I could not think of two people already so completely married to one another already.

That did not matter.  They got married the way two people so well suited to one another and so much in love ought to get married:  surrounded by the family they had created.

Now that family, far wider than he likely ever knew, is remembering how they came to be a family.
We do not need to be frantic about it. There is no danger we will forget him.

Each of us has a different story of Simon but it is really the same story.

The hard truth, you see, is that while he is dead, Simon will never leave any of us.