December 5, 2016
Miss Monique Taylor: Alexander Fleming, Robert Burns, Johnnie Walker—just some of the people from Kilmarnock and its surrounding area in Scotland that the world can be grateful for. Johnnie Walker gave us his Black and Red Labels. Alexander Fleming revolutionized medicine when he discovered penicillin. Robert Burns, a poet at a time when class and privilege were accepted as the natural order, wrote of equality and global solidarity of honest working people.
We in Hamilton, and indeed, all of Canada, are truly grateful for another of Kilmarnock’s sons, Ian Deans, who chose to make Hamilton his home.
Ian Deans was the MPP for the riding of Wentworth from 1967 to 1979, a riding which included a significant part of the riding that I now represent. It is a great honour and a privilege to speak on behalf of the NDP caucus to pay tribute to him.
I would like to welcome his family and friends who are here with us today: his daughter Megan McGovern; his sons, Jeff and Ian, along with their spouses, Jenn and Melanie; his daughter Trish Folino, and her spouse, Dave McCutcheon; his sister, Janis, and her spouse, Brian Gallacher; Diane Deans, his former wife; his grandson Adrian Folino, and his spouse, Jaclyn Lee; and family friend Julia Keast. I’m glad you were all able to join us here today as we pay tribute to a remarkable man.
I also want to give a shout-out to those who can’t be with us today: grandchildren Melissa, Antony, Andrew, Sage, Evan, Willow and Henry, and great-grandchildren Elizabeth, Kaitlin, Ava, Ben and Caleb—quite an array, who I’m sure brought plenty of joy to Ian’s life.
I didn’t know Ian Deans, although I did have the pleasure to meet him a couple of times. But I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of people who knew him very well. From all accounts, I missed out on something special.
He is remembered as someone who cared passionately about people, someone who could relate and connect to all people from every walk of life, and he relished his role as an MPP and being in a position of one who could help those who most needed it. Perhaps that reflected his previous career as a firefighter. Perhaps it came from his love of poetry and, in particular, the work of Robert Burns. More likely, it was just who he was.
I don’t know if Burns created Ian’s passion to fight on behalf of the underdog or merely fuelled it. Either way, it made a great difference to the lives of many people when he took up their cause to fight for them. In one of his former colleagues’ words, “He worked like hell for the people in his riding, and they continued to vote for him because of it.”
He had a charismatic presence. When he entered a room, people would flock to him. He was known as a wonderful orator and debater. He did his research, and he knew the issues inside and out. When he stood up to speak, everyone listened.
He had an uncanny ability to be, at the same time, the guy next door and a respected legislator. That was reflected in his appointment as the NDP House leader during the first minority government in Ontario since the Second World War.
I know from speaking to Brian Charlton, the former MPP for Hamilton Mountain, of the significant role played by Ian in shaping him when he first arrived at Queen’s Park in 1977.
After leaving Queen’s Park, Ian became the member of Parliament for Hamilton Mountain, again becoming the House leader during his time in Ottawa. David Christopherson, the MP for Hamilton Centre, worked for Ian during this time and believes him to be a true leader among the people.
David tells this story of them driving to an event, sharing casual chitchat. When they got out of the car, Ian walked several yards ahead of them, not speaking to anyone. He went into a complete zone. Wondering if everything was okay, David asked Ian’s wife if there was a problem. She said, “No, he’s just writing his speech.” Fifteen minutes later, Ian stood at a podium, giving a barnburner of a speech that would have taken a whole team hours to write. But Ian did it in the walk towards the building.
The NDP was proud and fortunate to have Ian Deans in our ranks. But Ian was a political brand unto himself. He attracted votes from all across the political spectrum because of his dedication and commitment to the people who elected him.
After fighting fires, his fire never died. Even though he began to have health issues, he continued to run for political office later in life. Although he didn’t win, his dedication to making his community a better place never left him.
His daughter Megan tells me that she grew up in a family that lived for politics, but it wasn’t all serious. Ian enjoyed singing and playing the piano, as well as making people laugh with silly jokes.
Politics can be a demanding life, and from what I’ve been told, for those who knew him, that would have been particularly true of Ian Deans. For many, that would mean missing a lot of family events, but not for Ian. According to Ian Jr., his dad was a man of endurance. He would put in 25-hour days driving back and forth between Hamilton and Toronto, not only for the local events and meetings, but also so as not to miss his children’s events, and hockey and baseball games. That couldn’t have been easy for Ian or for his family, but to Ian, it was worth it.
To his family, thank you so much for sharing him with us. I hope you leave here today knowing that he made so many happy. Hamilton is a better place for having Ian Deans.