Last year I met John Babcock on the day he turned 109, along with a gaggle of journalists watching his every move that day. He wasn’t much for the spotlight, but he endured it, humoring the media onslaught that sought his picture every July.
Of the more than 650 thousand Canadians that served in the Great War, John Babcock was the last living WWI veteran.
On Thursday, a few months short of his 110th birthday, John “Jack” Babcock died in Spokane where he had lived since 1932. In a small ceremony he was remembered by his grandchildren and honored by top Canadian dignitaries. Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs Jean-Pierre Blackburn presented his widow Dorothy with a Canadian flag that flew over the Canadian Parliament building the day he died.
John Babcock was 15 when he enlisted in the Canadian army, a decision he is remembered for almost 100 years later. But he never sought the attention. He served his country into his mid-twenties, moved to the U.S and ran a heating business for 26 years, became a naturalized U.S. citizen when he was 46 years old, and earned his high school diploma when he was 95. He was a devoted husband, married to his first wife, Elsie, for 45 years. Dorothy, his second wife, was a nurse who helped care for Elsie before she passed away. They were married for more than 30 years.
It was only recently that he became the center of attention as a national hero, every birthday outshining the last. It was an accomplishment he was quick to downplay.
The weekend John Babcock passed away, the news was overshadowed by the birth of another Canadian hero at the Olympics as Canada won the gold medal in hockey.
John Babcock was far from the spotlight. Finally.