On the surface, it would seem that the lives of Rod McElroy and Jack Layton were dissimilar.
Layton, the longtime leader of the federal NDP, was in the national news on a regular basis, notably during the spring election campaign and this summer as he fought another battle with cancer.
Comparatively, McElroy lived in the relative quiet of small-town Alberta. He was a career educator in Stettler for 33 years, most recently as principal of Stettler Elementary School.
In the past week, both men died at relatively young ages.
McElroy, 55, passed away Friday of an apparent heart attack.
Layton, 61, died early Monday, about a month after he stepped down as party leader because of the emergence of his second case of cancer.
Predictably, shock and sadness greeted Canadians and Albertans on both counts in recent days. While national news agencies relayed countless tributes to the engaging Layton, the greater community of Stettler and the Clearview Public Schools division mourned the loss of a popular principal who made the town his home three decades ago and never left.
Perhaps the lives of McElroy and Layton weren’t so dissimilar, after all.
From all accounts, both men were people who cared. They were leaders in the truest sense of the word. Assuredly, they impacted many lives, not only within family circles, but also on the local, provincial and national scenes.
Although his political vision sometimes seemed out of step with many Canadians, the ever-enthusiastic Layton forged on and produced surprising results in his spring swan song, as the NDP became Canada’s official Opposition. With his wife, Olivia Chow, also serving as an Ontario MP, they were truly a political family.
McElroy, whose sudden passing comes just a couple of weeks before the Sept. 6 start of the new school year, was a dedicated teacher both inside and outside school walls. As a father and as a coach, he shaped lives through his leadership and direction.
Therein are the similarities in the lives of McElroy and Layton. Both gave of themselves to make life better for others.
From elementary school classrooms to Parliament Hill, they handled the issues of the day with dignity and competence.
Their legacies will live on not only in their families, but also in the countless lives that both men touched.