A tribute to ‘Canada’s first citizen’, Charley Roach!

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday October 03 2012 in Opinion
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In reflecting on my friend Charley Roach, I am reminded of several things and individuals, several too many to mention here. However, the following are some, and recalled now as he has fought his final battle with the great leveller, the last great enemy of mankind!


One of these memories of his selfless acts and unassuming courage is couched in the words of one of my mother’s favourite poems, House By The Side Of The Road, by the poet, Sam Walter Foss.


There are hermit souls that live withdrawn


In the place of their self-content;


There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,


In a fellowless firmament;


There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths


Where highways never ran-


But let me live in a house by the side of the road


And be a friend to man.


Charley to me was the epitome of these lines: a friend to every man, woman and child in need of an advocate in their fight against injustice and for justice.


We might look back at the efforts made against injustice during his lifetime, and considering the way things now are: the labour unions beaten down and workers’ movements de-legitimized; racism morphing into other forms respectably virulent; and formerly derided neo-colonialism now the sought after globalism. We must nonetheless in his memory never tire of doing good; let us not tire of resisting injustice and of buttressing justice because even defeats and setbacks in opposing injustice still move the cause of justice forward. And of what purpose is life lived after all, if not lived in supporting our families, and in defending the downtrodden.


Charley reminded me of my favourite Civil Rights fighter: Rosa Parks. She, by a simple, singular act; that is, taking a stand by sitting down, probably did as much to change the 1960s culture of the Southern U.S. as had the earlier Civil War ending slavery.


Charley, with stalwarts like Dudley Laws, in bringing about the Special Investigations Unit (“SIU”), a civilian agency responsible for investigating circumstances involving police and civilians that might result in death, serious injury, etc., thereby changed Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and much of the English-speaking world.


Charley, like Rosa Parks, in his life further challenged our human consciousness; our zeitgeist of understanding, that each of us is born with the capacity to change the world; that the world most accessible to us to change is anywhere our shadow falls and our influence is felt.


He also reminded me of Samuel Clemens. Better known under the pen-name Mark Twain, this writer created characters as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain, as you may recall was also an anti-imperialist, anti-monarchist; a republican when the term meant being prudent, progressive, and not a ‘yahoo’.


An artist, Mark Twain like Charley, also believed that art is never politically inert; inane sometimes, but never inert. Art is active. Art is activating! In addition, art in its many manifestations is not only the fusing of form and function into beauty, it is also, in the jaws of injustice, that tongue speaking politics to power.


Charley Roach’s varied skills as artist: literary, visual, musical, all spoke beauty to a world so much in need of hope, and viable options. Charley, like Samuel Clemens, thus made justice the default option for those forced ‘outside the circumference of humanity’ or as calypsonians of an earlier age and genre would sing, ‘sans humanity’!


Mark Twain’s most anti-monarchist novel is the lesser known: A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. In it, Twain’s hero, Hank Martin, a skilled factory worker, is accidentally time-travelled from the 19th century back to the 6th century into the Kingdom of King Arthur. There, appalled at the oppression and poverty visited on the common people by the Knights of the Round Table, Hank becomes an activist. However, almost hung, but with wit and ingenuity, wins the King’s favour: when the Knights run out of horses he builds them bikes on which to ride.


He also persuades King Arthur, both disguised, to go through the kingdom and see what was going on. The king, unrecognized, is himself beaten and almost hung as a peasant. Hank rescues him. Hank also despised the monarchy but was never despicable, even against the monarch.


In this, Hank – and through him Mark Twain – reminds me of Charley who, incisive and indefatigable against injustice, was always broad-gauged, gracious and approachable. He hated oppression and despised the institution of Monarchy; yet Charley hated no one and despised no human, including Monarchs.


Charley, by your example and leadership, you made us better persons; not better than other persons, but better persons than we would otherwise have been.


Thank you, gracias, merci, megwich, asante sana, enkosi … a luta continua!


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