Politicians are often loved more after they leave office, but few politicians enjoyed decades of popularity, both in office and out of it, the way that Norm Jary did. On Friday night, the former mayor, city councillor, radio man, and all-around good guy Jary passed away at the age of 91. He now belongs to the ages you might say, but for many Guelphites he will always belong in their hearts.
According to an obituary posted on the Gilbert MacIntyre & Sons Funeral Home website, Mayor Jary passed away Friday at St. Joseph Health Centre. He was Guelph’s longest serving mayor, and spent 37 years combined on city council having never once been defeated in an election. Remarkably, Jary was also the news director at CJOY at the same time he was a politician at Guelph City Hall.
“I am personally grateful for Norm’s generous encouragement and advice to many, including me in my role as Mayor,” Guelph’s current Mayor Cam Guthrie said in a statement Saturday night. “He never saw himself as a politician, but as a public servant. I feel fortunate to have met him, and I know that Guelph was fortunate to have him as a leader of our civic life for so many years.
“I join all Guelphites in mourning the passing and celebrating the extraordinary life of Guelph’s Mayor of the people, Norm Jary,” Guthrie added. “In his honour, City flags will be lowered to half-mast.”
As the 37the Mayor of Guelph, Jary oversaw a tremendous era of growth and progress between 1970 and 1985. In that time, Guelph built the Hanlon Expressway, the Eaton Centre, Stone Road Mall, Willow West Mall, and the Victoria Road Recreation Centre. The Art Gallery of Guelph and the Guelph Civic Museum was also established at the time, but those are things, and what people mostly remember the Norm Jary mayoralty for was a dedication to a sense of public service.
“Mayor Jary’s political success can be attributed to his belief in open, democratic civic municipal government that represents all the people in the community,” wrote Dr. Debra Nash-Chambers in a 2010 Guelph Historical Society article about Jary. “His dedication to accepting a wide array of invitations to participate in local events gave the City a mayor that met local residents and heard their needs face-to-face. This practice enabled him to promote his belief that a mayor should serve the broad spectrum of the municipal population, not just special interests.”
Over the years, Jary has collected many honours including a spot in the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and was known as the “Voice of Guelph” for all his years as a radio broadcaster. A park in the city’s west end was named in his honour in 2000, and all 25 acres of it can still be found on Shelldale Crescent.
Despite his tremendous life of accomplishment, Norm Jary was typically humble when talking about his own history as a councillor, and as the mayor. “I always have the wonderful feeling of thankfulness and gratefulness that I had that privilege of doing that for so long, and that’s something that doesn’t come to everybody,” Jary said to the Guelph Politicast in an interview in 2019.
“I was just so happy to be elected that I never wanted to forget the people who put me there,” he added. “I think that’s what a lot of people need to remember today.”
Mayor Norm Jary his survived by three children, five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. The Jary family are asking Norm’s fans to raise a glass in his honour wherever they are, and will be celebrating his life at a later date, likely post-pandemic.
If you wish to do something in Mayor Jary’s honour, you can can make a donation to the MS Society.