Four lines by the 19th Century poet William Johnson Cory, translated from a classical Latin epigram by Callimachus:
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.
They gave me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed.
How well do I remember how often you and I
Would tire the sun with talking, and send him down the sky.
Good morning, everyone – Mrs. Del Buono, Jennifer, family and friends and colleagues – my name is Ian Alexander, and like all of you, I have the immense privilege and pleasure of saying, “I knew Vincent Del Buono.” Vince touched my life for good – in both senses of the word – as he touched so many lives – in ways large and small, public and private – including, I’m sure, the lives of everyone gathered here.
Vince was such a rich, old soul – such a multi-faceted personality – that no one, not even, I suspect, his nearest and dearest, could know him fully, in the round. So I’d like to invite us all to pause for a moment, and reflect on our own cherished memory of Vince – call it to mind and hold it in our hearts in silence. [PAUSE]
So now, I hope you’ll permit me to share a few of the images that came to my mind in those few seconds.
- There is Vince the politician – both large and small p – the master strategist, usually seeing several moves further down the board than the rest of us.
- There is Vince the crusader: indefatigable and shameless in drumming up support for any number of worthwhile causes – from the rule of law, to the National Portrait Gallery, to the 1812 Bicentennial. As someone said to me just yesterday: Vince saw the possibilities in things. He also knew how to inspire others to get behind them – and he was brilliant at mobilizing his network of connections on their behalf.
- There is Vince the astrologer – memorably and humorously depicted by Robertson Davies in one of his Christmas ghost stories for Massey College in the 1970s. Vince liked to call RD “Taffy” – a reference to both the tint of his beard and his Welsh ancestry. And I have no doubt that, although they enjoyed sparring verbally, the two of them actually shared a deep mutual respect. After all, they were alike in many ways – from the innate shyness behind their gregarious public personas, to their love of obscure facts and arcane lore, to their interest in Jungian psychology.
Vince was a deeply, if somewhat unconventionally, spiritual person. His was an ancient, eclectic and inclusive spirituality: transcending any denomination, doctrine or dogma, yet respecting them all. That comes across in his selection of the D.H. Lawrence poem excerpted on your prayer cards. He first came across it when his brother John died: an event which caused Vince to engage spiritual issues in a new way, with the help of Father Fred McGee at St. Joseph’s Parish in Ottawa, where Vince and Jenny were very active at the time. Father Fred liked to speak of “the God of Surprise”: an idea Vince was much preoccupied with again in these last days. Vince and Jen didn’t have a chance to re-read the Lawrence poem together, as they had hoped to do; so much was cut short by his unexpectedly rapid passing – but it’s clear, as Jennifer has said, that Vinnie was preparing for this journey. He knew it was time.
Vince always knew. He was amazingly intuitive, wasn’t he? He had a sixth sense, and a third eye. He was in touch with forces few of us are. He would look at you with that wise, penetrating, yet compassionate expression, and you felt he was seeing straight into your very soul. And he always knew the right thing to say. Consulting Vince for advice felt rather like visiting a cherubic, yet somewhat enigmatic, sage or oracle.
There are so many other Vincent Del Buonos – so many other sides to this complex and remarkable man, whose global network of friends and colleagues was at once so wide and so deep – as anyone who’s glanced at his Caring Bridge blog can plainly see.
- There is Vince the Italian immigrant kid, growing up around the St. Clair Junction neighbourhood in the 50s and 60s – his presidency of the student council at Oakwood Collegiate a harbinger of things to come. That immigrant experience shaped him in important ways, as he revealed when he spoke about it frankly and movingly at the Columbus Centre some years ago.
- At the other end of his life, there is Vince the Nigerian: one of relatively few expatriate inductees into the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and holder of important traditional Nigerian titles, as well. The Nigerian experience was central to who Vince was, in many ways – from the opportunity it gave him to express his more extroverted side by wearing traditional Nigerian dress, through the great interest he took in Sharia law, to the very close identification he felt with the poor and disenfranchised citizens of that country. Vince considered his time in Nigeria, challenging though it was, to be the crowning achievement of his life – professionally, and in some ways personally, as well. Many of us wish we could have visited Vince and Jenny at their home in Abuja, which was always open to locals and visitors alike, for frequent impromptu dinner parties and good old gabfests – open, too, to local artists who would bring their latest work to show.
- Which brings us to Vince the art lover – patron and promoter of numerous artists, organizer of several exhibitions, and diehard collector of beautiful objects – in quantity – wherever in the world his career took him. And, may I add, inveterate packrat of the results of all those exotic shopping expeditions.
- There is Vince the lover of ritual and ceremony, who took pride in his many richly deserved honours, which I won’t take time to list here – except to note that they continue to pour in. Last evening, the key to the City of Niagara Falls was presented to Vince; possibly the first time it has been given posthumously.
- By contrast, there is Vince the comedian . . . will any of us ever forget the sound of that infectious laugh of his, whether in person or over a phone line from half a world away?
- At the same time, there is Vince the scholar: lifelong student of history and of the law – painstaking in his research, rigorous in his analysis, clear in his thought, and compelling in his use of both written and spoken language: a great teacher and communicator.
Once, when my wife Marilyn and I were staying at Vince and Jenny’s flat in London, he took us on a spontaneous walking tour of the surrounding neighbourhood of Clerkenwell – ad libbing colourful, well-honed anecdotes about the historical significance of every building and street corner we passed. That was Vince – what a consummate performer!
- I’ve already alluded several times to Vince the world traveler: always restless, always on the move. Ten years ago, a bunch of us spent two weeks in Provence. Most of us welcomed the chance to stay put in those picturesque surroundings – but Vince made, I believe, three round trips to London during that fortnight. He also kept trying to smuggle French wine back to England – in his checked luggage, no less – where, of course, it inevitably broke, staining his and his fellow passenger’s luggage a deep shade of Chateauneuf du Pape red.
And yet, the perennially peripatetic Vince surprised us all – perhaps most of all himself – by eventually settling down so happily at his idyllic lakeside home in Niagara: a spot he should have had many more years to enjoy. The last time I saw Vince, we met – characteristically – at an airport: Pearson Terminal One. I was changing flights; he was on his way into town with a car trunk full of paintings for an upcoming show. He told me that he didn’t care if he never boarded another plane. And he didn’t.
- Which in turn reminds us of Vince the family man. All of us knew how important those Sunday afternoon lunches at his mother’s were to Vince. And he adored his late father Michael. Mike was his role model. He admired his integrity and determination. Nobody messed with Mike. As Nick de Lorenzo can tell you, by the age of 10, Vince was running the time clock on the construction site. And by 16, he was wheeling and dealing on orders for materials worth millions of dollars.
As for his own home life . . . well, anyone who saw – or even saw pictures – of Vince and Jennifer and the cats, joyfully and lovingly ensconced at any one of their addresses over the years – from Ottawa and Montreal, to Vancouver and London, from Avenue Road to Abuja, from Vienna to Virgil – and usually offering bountiful hospitality to a large group of guests gathered around the table – could see at once how they quickly made each of those places very much their own unmistakably distinctive home – and what a strong domestic streak Vince had, wherever he was.
Well, I could go on – and so could you – and I’m sure we will, at other times and in other circumstances. Because Vincent Del Buono is a permanent part of all our lives. And for that, we are all profoundly grateful.
So I hope you will permit me to say, on your behalf: “Vincent, notre cher ami, merci – et au revoir.”