(This post is a few days late, but better late than never, right?)
Jim Green — former city councillor, community developer, mayoral candidate and champion of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Gastown neighbourhoods — died Tuesday morning of advanced lung cancer. He was 68.
For a touching read on his life, read Jeff Lee’s obituary here.
I’d only met and spoken with Green a handful of times. I couldn’t accurately have called him a work friend, let alone a friend, as much as I would have liked to. But like so many others, I had an immense respect for Green that stemmed from his many remarkable visions, and accomplishments, from starting the BladeRunners employment program for at-risk youth, to having the artwork of local artists stamped on to manhole covers, to the remarkable redevelopment of the Woodward’s building, with its social housing mandate. (Critics said it couldn’t be done.) He was a dreamer, and a doer. He was the best mayor Vancouver never had.
In my few interactions with him, I was quickly able to confirm many of the stories I’d heard about him: that he’s very direct, brutally honest. When I brought up a critic’s comments on his work, he was quick to reply: “She’s full of shit.” I really can’t express how much I value such frankness — from a former politician, no less. I really liked him. I was thrilled when he agreed to be part of my big Gastown Project, which I had been working on for months.
The video shoot for his profile was originally supposed to be in the media room of the Woodward’s building, where he lives. For reasons I don’t remember, we weren’t able to access it that day, and, after some hesitation, he decided we could shoot in his suite. (His suite, from what I had heard, was famously off-limits to media.) It was a beautiful space. One wall was lined from floor to ceiling with wooden boxes, making a massive shelf which held innumerable books, photos, relics. Photos and memorabilia of Woodward’s were everywhere, not unlike a proud parent’s photos of his child. I asked where he got the boxes from, contemplating stealing the shelving idea, and he said he had found them on the streets over the years. “Oranges and wine used to come in them,” he said.
When I learned in February that his lung cancer had returned, I emailed Green to tell him my thoughts were with him and his family. I told him how much I respected all that he had done, I sent him the links to the Gastown Project videos. I guess what I wasn’t fully conscious of at the time was that I was writing him knowing it would likely be the last time I ever talked to him. I’ve never before talked or written to someone knowing that. As bittersweet as it was, I’m happy I was able to do it. He wrote back a few days later, thanking me for my “thoughtful note.” He said despite the circumstances, he was doing very well and was at home with loved ones, working on projects he was passionate about. He said he wanted me to know just how much he appreciated the love and warm wishes he had been getting.
He died five days later.
The Gastown Project launches this Saturday. I wish Jim Green could have seen it, but I’m glad he at least saw his video vignette: