The Hamilton Spectator
Barry Gray, the Hamilton Spectator
John Hunt had it rough almost from the get-go. A drunk driver killed his parents when he was seven, and as a young man he began drinking and taking drugs and even did some jail time. He died this week, leaving behind four siblings. Chris, Cathy Gibson, Michael, and Cindy Goodwin held a memorial for him yesterday.
Clockwise from top left, John, Michael, Chris, Cathy and Cindy, two years after the death of their parents.
A man who lived in a house of boards behind the Shop & Save grocery store in Clearwater, Florida, died this week. The police called him John Doe.
They had his name half right. It was John Hunt, and he was 44 years old. His ashes are now headed for Hamilton. "To us, John wasn't a homeless person," Cindy Goodwin says. "He was our brother."
She believes his story would have been different, had it not been for that night, Aug. 28, 1965.
The family was returning from the Toronto Ex. They were almost home. The kids were in the back seat of the little Austin. Roland Hunt was at the wheel, wife Shirley beside him.
Roland was the country and western voice at CKLY in Lindsay, this side of Peterborough. He did some promoting, too, for singers like Tommy Hunter.
He and Shirley had five great kids. They all lived in a big Victorian house.
The kids were asleep that night, all but John. Southbound on Highway 35 came a young man in a station wagon. He'd already had lots of beer and there was one more on his lap. His car crossed the centre line.
He was only shaken up in the crash. Roland Hunt died instantly. His wife lived three hours. Michael, age 8, the oldest, was taken to Toronto Sick Kids. His brain injuries left him an eight-year-old for life. Chris, 3, and Cathy, 14 months, were treated and released. Cindy, 6, and John, 7, had broken legs.
There was no counselling, no big settlement to help these orphans get through life, but Tommy Hunter did hold a benefit for them.
Roland Hunt's parents, solid Salvation Army stock, stepped forward to raise their grandchildren. They moved into the old house and did their best.
Grandfather died building a new home for them in Huntsville. Grandmother carried on. With Michael's head injuries, John became the stand-in big brother.
He alone saw the crash from the back seat, watched that car plow into his parents. They say he felt lost when his parents died. He had nightmares. He used to wake up screaming.
By day, he was cocky. He liked to drive fast. He grew big and husky, left school, got work as a bouncer.
By then, Chris had joined the armed forces and Cindy had come to Hamilton for school. She then got married and invited the family to all move here. Being close has always been important.
For five years, off and on, John lived at Cindy's. She would get angry with him for drinking and send him away. He always came back, with promises. His personality won many over.
He fell into a quick-money scheme. A member of a local crime family had some bonds that needed peddling and sent John east to do the job.
One night Cindy got a call from a detective in Newfoundland looking for John. "We don't want him," the cop said. "We're trying to get the others."
Soon John returned to Hamilton. He had been beaten. "I have to get out of here," he told Cindy. "I'm in a lot of trouble. I'm going to end up dead."
She gave him bus fare to Florida. "We sent him away," she says. "To this day, I regret that."
That was 13 years ago. John never returned to Hamilton. His sisters both saw him once down there. He had lost weight and seemed to have a harder edge. But he was glad to see them.
He would phone every now and then, sometimes quite drunk. He always phoned at Christmas. Then for a couple of years he didn't. The family learned he had been in jail for drug possession. They don't know why he wasn't then deported.
John phoned Cindy just a couple of weeks ago. He told her he had an apartment and things were going well.
"Maybe next year I'll come home," he told her. "Don't worry, sis, I'm OK. I'll call you on Christmas Day."
"Make sure you don't have too much to drink," Cindy told him. "We want to understand you."
On Monday afternoon, someone found John passed out in the alley behind the grocery store, a dozen beer cans around him.
He was brain dead and on life support when Cindy talked to the hospital. They wanted permission to see if John's organs could be used for transplants. Cindy said that was fine, but knew her brother was probably not a good donor.
It turned out he had hepatitis B and C, probably from sharing needles. His body was full of cocaine. He had an aneurysm in his head the size of a golf ball. They said John would have been having horrible headaches.
There was a small family service for him yesterday at the Salvation Army Mountain Citadel. Come spring, they will take his ashes to the gravesite of their parents.
John's family knows he didn't have to choose the life he did. Still, they wonder what it would have been like for him, for all of them, if that driver had not been drinking that night.
"How has his life been?" Cindy wonders about the driver. "Does he ever think about us?"