Jack Cobb and Rex Batten were both active members of the Fossils Club, a men’s club that wrote and staged a topical musical each May, with proceeds going to summer camps for disadvantaged children. One Saturday, Jack and Rex entered the Unitarian Church to attend a memorial service for a deceased club member, and were surprised and pleased to find a live jazz group playing in the Sanctuary. For Jack and Rex, finding live jazz in a church was a revelation, enough to induce them to attend services from then on
Jack took the news home to his wife, Janine (me), who had been curious about the Unitarian Church for some years and who was glad to accompany him to a service the next day. Within a few weeks, we had both decided to sign the membership book.
But this is Jack’s profile.
Jack was born in 1929 in Newbiggin-by-Sea, which sounds like an idyllic English village but was, in fact, a grubby coal mining town. His father was on active duty in the Royal Navy and shortly thereafter, took Jack and his mother north to live in Rosyth in Scotland.
In 1936, the family (now including two younger sisters) moved to Forest Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After completing his mandatory two-year
military service (in the RAF) Jack began to think of making his way to some place far from home.
In 1952, he sold his beloved motor cycle to cover the fare to Halifax, and booked a crossing which took him, via boat train, to Toronto’s Union Station. He arrived with a cardboard suitcase and $20 in his wallet on Grey Cup Day, November 29th, 1952. He loved to tell people about the big parade that welcomed him to Canada!
Within a few weeks of his arrival he was hired by a national advertising agency (Cockfield Brown) which charitably advanced him money to buy a suit. That same year, Jack moved into an apartment with three other Toronto Scottish rugby teammates. Down the hallway was an apartment with four young ladies, one of whom caught his eye. On their first date, Jack told Janine that he would marry her. Janine laughed. Two years later, in October of 1957, Janine became Mrs. Jack Cobb. Who had the last laugh? In that same month, Jack moved from Cockfield Brown to another national advertising agency, McKim Advertising.
In 1959, Jack’s boss moved to Montreal and shortly thereafter, asked Jack to come and work with him. The move took place in February of 1960, a few months before the birth of their first child. Thus the Cobbs became Montrealers, proud citizens of N.D.G., living initially on Harvard Avenue and then, from 1965 onwards, on Wilson Avenue below Monkland. Four more Cobbs were born (1961, 1963, 1967 & 1969), each eventually enrolled at Notre Dame de Grâce elementary school.
Meanwhile, Jack climbed the ranks at McKim – from Assistant account executive to Account executive to Manager of accounts to Vice-president in charge of Eastern region (Quebec and the Maritimes).
However, as the agency grew, so did the emphasis on the bottom line. Jack felt that they had lost something significant when the stress shifted from the creative side (striking copy and illustrations) to the profit margin. When he couldn’t take it any longer, he resigned. He was 58, not yet at retirement age, and there was general consternation at the agency. However, he was determined.
In retirement, he continued the volunteer work he had been doing for years. He never lost the sense of how lucky he had been in his own life. In the early 60s, the Montreal Volunteer Bureau asked him to drive blind persons to social events organized by the Montreal Association for the Blind. In later years, he sat on the boards of Catholic Family Services and Camp Amy Molson. After retirement, he read and recorded books for the blind and then spent ten enriching years as a volunteer in the Palliative Care ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
He also travelled where and when he could. The first trip was a trip to France, a 50th birthday gift for his wife. This was followed by at least one trip per year – to Switzerland and Italy, the Low Countries, Turkey, Sicily, Tanzania, China, Japan, Scandinavia, Central Europe, Australia, the Baltic States, and Hawaii.
While hiking in Hawaii, Janine noticed a tremor in Jack’s left arm. Shortly after their return home (2006),he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. However, perhaps due to luck and perhaps to Jack’s devotion to fitness, the worst symptoms were kept at bay for a long period of time.
By 2012, it was time to discuss a move to a seniors’ residence where long-term care might be available if needed. The move was made in June of 2012 and a few months later, Parkinson’s really took hold. Jack began to lose his voice and to fall -- tumbles caused by sudden turns or an unexpected loss of balance -- not too serious until the day he impacted the hip joint so solidly that his pelvis cracked. The prescription was six weeks of bed rest – weeks that marked his farewell to walking. Nowadays, Jack is moved from bed to wheelchair and back again. He cannot speak, cannot write, cannot communicate – an enormous loss for a man whose life and
livelihood centered on a mastery of language and nuance.
Cared for day and night, Jack lives a life of supreme boredom, interrupted only by visits from his family. He lights up when they walk into his room