I came to know Tooker personally after he moved to Halifax with his wife, Angela, last September, but I had known of him for years, having first read about and been delighted by his antics in trying — and eventually succeeding — in having bicycles allowed on the subway system in Montreal. Although I thought I knew Tooker a little — we were certainly often together in the small space of the office that I share with Angela — it has become clear that the Tooker I met here was an eclipsed version of the Tooker whom Angela and so many others knew.

What has been revealed to me in the days since his death by suicide is the wide variety of his accomplishments, from writing, to political theatre and activism, to changes in environmental legislation, and to just plain inspiring so many others to think and act on environmental issues. Certainly, there were those who found him irritating and abrasive, but there are no Canadians who do not enjoy the rights that they take for granted or who do not owe their privileges as citizens, to activists like Tooker who have had a lifetime of sticking their necks out — often at their own personal cost.

I have strung together some comments that have been sent to me about Tooker by his friends. When you read this, I hope you understand a little more about what he stood for and why:

“Tooker was a man of vision who did not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.’ He knew what was right and he knew how he wanted to make everyone else understand that as well.

“The Molson Indy is a big car race in Toronto. It increases pollution, congestion and noise pollution in the city, not to mention the incredible inconvenience for the residents of the affected areas. Many of us hate this event and chose to share our contempt with others. Tooker had a brilliant idea; it involved a cargo bicycle, a giant solar powered PA system and a CD with race car sounds on it. We pedaled this contraption through the city to then-Mayor Mel Lastman’s house. You know, we brought the race to him! He didn’t like that very much. Later visits to Mel Lastman’s house included bringing fresh compost for the mayor’s lawn. He didn’t seem to appreciate that either!

“So you’re at a protest. The numbers are large. The tension is building between the participants and the police. What is the sure-fire Tooker Gomberg way to completely dissolve this tension and add a complete element of confusion to the situation? Have a truck laden with fresh sod prearranged to meet the protest. A sudden recruitment of eager volunteers creates a lawn where once there was a road; comfort where once there was danger; amusement where once there was tension. Who would have thought to put grass in the middle of the road other than Tooker? Brilliance, sheer brilliance!

“The fact that a person from another part of the country can arrive in Toronto and within a couple of years run as a candidate for mayor and get 60,000 votes is a testament to the man’s greatness. He was a visionary. This planet needs more Tookers. His passing is a loss that we will all feel. Mother Earth never had a better friend.”

Gomberg’s term on Edmonton city council was marked by his advocacy ofbicycling. He once aggravated his fellow councillors by chaining his biketo Edmonton’s new City Hall.

Edmonton councillor Allan Bolstad, who served with Gomberg, said, “Tooker seemed soindestructible.

“That’s one of the things that makes it so difficult for me to acceptwhat I am hearing today.”

Brian Mason, now an NDP member of the Alberta provincial legislature, also served with Gomberg on city council. He called him a man of conviction who walked or pedalled his bike or rode on public transit rather than drive a polluting vehicle.Gomberg, an avid cyclist, founded one of Canada’s first curbsiderecycling programs in Montreal and headed Edmonton’s EcoCity Society.

When he served on Edmonton city council, he cut acolourful figure as executive director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters.In his early days in Edmonton, he worked for Alberta Energy, promotingconservation in schools and became known as a big proponent of the bicycleas a means of getting cars off the road.

The late 1990s found Gomberg andhis wife, Angela Bischoff, travelling on their bikes in Canada, Asia andCuba on their Greenspiration tour.

Edmonton Mayor Bill Smith passed on his condolences to Gomberg’s family on behalfof city council, saying his death was tragic. According to protocol, CityHall flags will be lowered to half-mast on the day of his funeral.

“Certainly he was a guy dedicated to his cause,” Smith said. “Absolutely,he believed strongly. There were a lot of things I was not in agreementwith Tooker on but I admired him for his grit.”

Gray Jones, an environmental researcher, shared office space with Gombergfor three years when Jones was director of the Western Canada WildernessCommittee and Gomberg was running EcoCity.

“He was a visionary in every sense of the word. He provoked people tothought — what a dangerous radical.”

Jones saw Gomberg last summer when he was visiting Edmonton and he talkedabout how he was fighting depression and could be down one day and up theother. Despite the strong drugs he took for his illness, he said Gombergmade brilliant observations about environmental issues such as fish farms.

“The passing of Tooker Gomberg is a passing of innocence in this province…. If people could get over his small size and sometimes abrasive nature,they would have seen a sparkling intellect.”

Gomberg started his term on council with controversy, earning the wrath ofsome councillors by not wearing a jacket and tie to his swearing-in. Hefollowed that by feeding ties to his composting worms he kept in a box inhis office.

His accomplishments during his term on council included the creation ofthe computerized BusLink 24-hour information line which the administrationinitially said was impossible. He also fought the expansion of the E.L.Smith water treatment plant in favour of conservation, which some saysaved the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

James Kosowan, who worked as his executive assistant for most of his stinton council, said Gomberg laid the groundwork for the composting plant bymobilizing public opinion against a plan to irradiate sewage sludge.

Brian Mason said he helped change the environmental movement’s focus on such urbanissues as sprawl and water conservation.

“I would say nobody walked the talk like he did,” Mason said. “He reallytried to be an example of what he thought we had to be.”

Memorial services have been planned for different cities across the country during the coming week.