Not everyone gets to talk to their heroes. Not everyone has the chance to sit next to the living embodiment of what can be accomplished, when you set your mind to it.
The first time I spoke to my hero was in October of 2008. I was sitting in my living room and my phone rang. A scratchy voice on the other side of the line asked if I was Joey Jack who writes all those letters to the editor?
“Yes,” I replied. “Who is this please?”
I expected someone was preparing to tell me off.
“Well, my name is Len Marchand Sr. and I grew up just down the road from your family on the reserve in Vernon.”
I was shocked.
He refused to allow me to call him Mr. Marchand, or senator or any other sort of honourific.
“Just Len,” he said.
Len had called me to let me know that he had been following me in the paper over the years and felt I had greater things ahead of me.
My hero made me cry.
We kept in touch over the years and would talk politics and whatever else we could think of. Laughing about Pierre Trudeau while his beautiful wife Donna served coffee and muffins.
Len always corrected the way I said kilometre. Who was I to argue with the man who brought the metric system to Canada?
By the way, reporters on CBC say kilometre correctly.
Over the years, Len and I kept in touch over the telephone and I secretly adopted him as my grandpa. I would call him to brag about good news in my life and for advice. He always gave me sound advice and always told me he was proud of me.
We spoke after the last federal election for an article I was writing for a publication. He was beaming while talking about the election results.
“I look back to the mid and late 50s when we were just trying to get the vote,” he said. “Now 54 First Nations people were candidates.”
When I asked him about Stephen Harper he said, “The only thing I like about Stephen Harper is that my second name is Stephen and his second name is Joseph, which was my dad’s name.”
Over the past 6 to 8 months I’ve been dealing with depression and the last time Len called me was just this past March. I called him the previous day and he could hear the sadness in my voice as I tried to be strong and put on a brave face when he asked how I was doing.
The next day he called me back and told me he cared for me and that I should keep my eyes on the prize of better things tomorrow.
Now, that I’m feeling better about things, I had meant to call him and thank him for always being in my corner.
So, while many people will read the tributes and recaps about The Hon. Leonard Marchand Sr. PC CM, I just wanted to tell you about my hero, fellow Okanagan Indian, friend and secret adopted grandpa Len.
Thank you Len.
Thank you for showing every Indian person in Canada that determination, hard work and kindness can help you achieve what you set out to do.
— Editor's note: Len Marchand, the former Liberal MP and senator who was the first status Indian elected to Parliament, has died at age 82.