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Guelph loses one of its true builders with passing of Norm Jary

Mr. Jary spent 35 years on council, including 15 consecutive years as Mayor of Guelph
2019 10 10 GT – Following Up Norm Jary – TB 02
Norm Jary is seen in 2019 with a collection of photos in his apartment at The Village of Riverside Glen. Troy Bridgeman/GuelphToday

People used to ask Norm Jary who they should vote for. His answer was not a political one.

“I always like to check into their background. How does that person treat their wife or their girlfriend and their kids and family because, if they treat them properly, then they are probably going to be pretty good in politics too,” he said in a 2019 interview.

And that was Norm Jary, a legendary local political leader and familiar radio voice of CJOY radio whose true essence was family, respect and love for the community.

Mr. Jary, Mayor of Guelph from 1970 to 1985 and a member of city council for 35 years, passed away Friday. He was 91.

"(Mr. Jary) had a style that allowed debate and dissent, but only to the point that civility was maintained,” Guelph Mercury columnist Al Ferris once wrote. “He respected his councillors' opinions and encouraged compromise based on the needs of the city and not the whims of the latest fads and fashions."

Mayor Cam Guthrie considered Mr. Jary a friend and role model, regularly visiting him over the years.

“I am personally grateful for Norm’s generous encouragement and advice to many, including me in my role as Mayor,” said Guthrie in a statement.

“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.”

City flags are flying at half mast in his honour.

Kind words poured in from those that knew him and were influenced by him.

“A mentor to many, a gentleman, a statesman. #Guelph loves you,” said councillor Leanne Caron.

"Norm never stopped serving and supporting Guelph, and telling great stories," said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. "Such a great example and a great loss."

“His voice will be missed but not forgotten,” added Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner.

“Such a lovely man. Very supportive and encouraging of us newcomers. He loved his community and was a staunch and vocal defender all that was great about our city,” Tweeted councillor Cathy Downer, who served on council with Mr. Jary.

Originally from Toronto where he graduated in broadcasting from what was then known as Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Mr. Jary was working in radio in Stratford when a friend recommended him for a sports job at Guelph’s CJOY radio.

Mr. Jary spent 40 years at CJOY, retiring as its news director in 1994. During that time he became the voice of Guelph junior hockey, notably the Guelph Biltmores. He was given the opportunity to call the play-by-play of the New York Rangers in the mid-60s but was rumoured to have turned down an offer to do it permanently because he didn't want to leave Guelph.

It was civic duty and leading Guelph through an unprecedented period of growth that perhaps he will be best remembered.

After two unsuccessful runs at the Progressive Conservative candidate for Guelph, he was elected as a city alderman in 1963.

In 1970 he became interim mayor when Ralph Smith resigned. Seven months later he was officially elected as mayor, a position he would hold until 1985 when he took a step back and ran as a councillor for Ward 3, a position he would hold until he retired from politics in 2000.

Mr. Jary would keep printouts of two editorials from the old Guelph Mercury newspaper where he was praised for, “promoting honesty, fairness, approachability and impartiality” and “as a public speaker he has no peers in municipal government in Canada."

In retirement he remained active in the community and was involved in a number of local charities, including the Norm Jary–ARC Industries Golf Tournament, a fundraiser for Guelph-Wellington Community Living that raised close to $1 million over 42 years.

Mr. Jary was pre-deceased by his daughter Sandra and his beloved wife of 64 years Jean, who he always gave much of the credit for his career.

In recent years he had been living at the Village of Riverside Glen.