For all intents and purposes, Henry Jaques was a very ordinary man. He was tall, and straight backed, he had a ready smile, and a kind face. He was soft spoken and had a large laugh. He loved children. He loved his family. He loved and adored Margaret, his wife. They had many, many years to perfect their relationship and it seems to me they did just that.
Under the surface however, Henry was so far from ordinary that it would be like saying a comet is ordinary, or the moon landing wasn’t such a big deal. Henry meant so much to so many of us – all of us different, all of us made special by Henry’s care of us, his kindness, his love and respect for each and every one of us. Indeed, Henry was not an ordinary man.
Henry was extraordinary if ever the word was accurately applied. Henry was on the Board of Directors at the Ottawa Jazz Festival when I was hired as Executive Director in 1996. Henry and Jim Fogo hired me together. I told them I didn’t know anything about jazz and Henry said that was okay. I didn’t have to know about jazz. I was being hired to right the ship. I told him I didn’t sail. He said that was okay too. We laughed. And thus began our 24-year friendship.
To say that Henry is as deeply enshrined in the festival as is Confederation Park, the main stage, or music on a warm summer’s evening is to understand how much he loved this event. Henry volunteered every year on the Main Stage, latterly a little less intensely, but since the festival’s inception, Henry was the volunteer backbone of the main stage crew. He did everything. He coordinated, he scheduled, he did all the heavy-lifting. He sat on the board and was on the executive on and off for many years. He took care of people. He kept people safe. He trained people and ensured knowledge was passed along from seasoned veteran to first year volunteer. If ever you wondered where Henry was, it was usually up the scissor lift hanging and focusing lights or building scaffolding. Long after the other work lights were shut down, Henry and Andrew and usually others from stage were still assembling, perfecting, ensuring the things were ready for the audience. In so many ways, Henry is the very beating heart of this festival – the festival we have all come to love so much and call our home.
Henry was the nicest person I’ve ever known. He was the most sincere, the most authentic, and the most generous. Henry, it seemed, had endless love for everyone and everything. Well, he and Margaret came as a team – they had boundless love for every person and every cause they encountered. Their passionate support of the arts and human rights took them around the globe as volunteers. They were tireless in their commitment to make the world better.
It’s hard to believe that, on the eve of our 40th anniversary, we will have to prepare the main stage without you Henry. It doesn’t seem possible. I do make this promise: we will make this festival one for the history books and we will dedicate it to you, Henry Jaques, the finest man I’ve ever known.
Ottawa Jazz Festival