Remembering John Horvath
By Bhagwant Sandu
One could check out conspiracy theories on social media or read the self-serving commentary of political spin doctors, but to really get to the bottom of things, it would be wiser to sit down for a coffee with John Horvath.
Many of us who live and work in the Glebe always chose the latter. We were never disappointed. John could be counted on to provide a clear analysis complete with all the theoretical frameworks. A coffee chat with him left you feeling intellectually satisfied, yet hungry to learn more. That was John’s gift – to make you even more curious about what you came to see him about in the first place.
At the time of his death on April 13, John had just completed reading volume four of The Governance of China by Xi Jinping. It was part of his effort to sift through the anti-China hysteria overwhelming our political discourse right now.
Listening to his deep insights and understanding was like attending a PhD seminar on East-West relations. It was the same for any other subject, be it world affairs, climate change, consumerism, philosophy or the poetry of Omar Khayyam, which John could recite fully by heart.
One of John’s favourite hangouts in the Glebe was Morala Happy Goat on Bank Street near First Avenue. The clientele always knew that the seat by the window belonged to John Horvath and his books. That was where he held his study sessions, educating young and old minds alike. John’s corner by the window had turned into a metaphoric market square of Socrates and, at times, the banyan tree of the Buddha.
“There is no there, there,” John said one day as he was explaining eastern philosophy. He was not talking about mindfulness training or yoga; he was reminding his handful of listeners that our emotions and beliefs are a result of the conflicts generated by the socio-economic forces playing out in our minds and bodies.
He was in fact helping us understand Karl Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism.
More than anything else, John liked to inspire young people. Betka Jurisicova, a student from Slovakia who is spending her summer in the Glebe, remembers her long philosophical discussions with John.
“It seems to us that we are faced with insurmountable opportunities,” she remembers him telling her, “but in reality, nothing is insurmountable.” He was encouraging her to keep pursing her university studies in sociology.
“He taught me to never judge anyone, only to understand them,” recalls Betka fondly.
Noel Ward, who works at Morala and was also a member of the little community that gathered around John, has affixed a poster on the café’s wall. It is a picture of John Horvath with the words, “This above all – to thine own self be true.” Noel remembers John Horvath as a fervent believer in the power of great written words.
A long-time resident of the Glebe, John was a son of Hungarian immigrants. He spoke several languages and had travelled the globe and had just about visited every nook and cranny of Canada many times over.
As a former federal public servant, he was one of the original drafters of Canada’s national multicultural policy. That was John’s proudest achievement, pushing government to think beyond the confines of the old French-English dichotomy. It took a lot of courage and willpower to go against the prevailing thoughts of the day, but John persisted. It is not a stretch to say that Canada’s multicultural milieu that we celebrate today is in no small part thanks to the efforts of John Horvath.
John leaves behind his wife Madeleine, his kids Kathryn and Mathieu, his grandkids and a large extended family, many of whom live in the Glebe. He also leaves behind hundreds of books, journals and pamphlets. For us, the fans of his intellect and his wisdom, he leaves behind a very big void in the Glebe coffee shop scene.
But we know that the best way to keep John’s memory alive is for everyone reading this to go and grab a good book, non-fiction of course, then holler at whomever happens to be sitting at a table next you and start a conversation. That, John taught us, is the only way to create meaning and to build community.
Bhagwant Sandu is a retired public service manager, a member of the Glebe Report board of directors and an enthusiastic coffee-shop discourse participant.
John Horvath at Morala Happy Goat