Lorne Henderson – Lambton’s former MPP known for his ability to remember everyone’s name – once said John Phair knew more people than he did.
That is quite an accomplishment according to Phair’s close friend and Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey..
The former councillor of both Enniskillen and Petrolia council died Jan. 5 after a brief illness. He was 71.
Bailey has known Phair for years. It was the long-time Conservative who convinced Bailey to run for the MPP’s position. Phair had run for the Conservatives in the 2000 federal election.
“We were debating about the 2007 provincial election and he challenged me; ‘Why don’t you run?’ I said, ‘Oh god!’”
Phair won the debate and then actively campaigned to get him elected.
Bailey says he talked to Phair almost every day, asking him about issues he faced or looking for information about things going on in the area. “He was a gentleman,” Bailey said choking up. “A good friend and a gentleman.”
Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott agrees saying Phair “thought pretty deep on everything. He took a lot of time on issues. Once he made up his mind, he wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion and it was always well thought out.”
And Marriott says Phair was respected. “When I thought about him, it was that quiet, solid, levelheaded demeanor of his and he was liked by everyone.”
Phair’s interested extended beyond politics. He was a history buff and could answer just about any question about his communities oil history anyone had.
Former Petrolia Councillor, Liz Welsh, served with Phair on Petrolia Council – he served four terms of council there. Welsh, also a local historian, says he was one of her most favourite people.
“He was just so interested in all of our history and all the people who made the history. He was genuinely passionate about it. He always wanted to share that; he didn’t keep it to himself.”
Welsh says Phair would hear an interesting historic item and start researching, even planning vacations to look deeper into what he’d found. “He was always accurate – he would fact check everything.”
Dave Hext knew first hand about his near photographic memory of local history. The local historian would have breakfast with Phair and Martin Dillon – who curates the Petrolia Heritage website. They would discuss some obscure fact of the area over a meal and then head out exploring. Hext vividly recalls one trip to Florence where they followed a road which was once a path made by the Indigenous people.
“He knew anybody and everybody in Lambton County. He had a wealth of knowledge. If I asked him about someone, he would have a file on them.”
Hext says Phair also had a website for some time called Hard Oil News, which told the region’s stories.
The historian, will be missed, says Hext. “He’s like the father you wish you would have found out more about him and what he knew.”
Phair is also well known in farm circles and the newspaper industry. He was a freelance journalist for farm papers in Ontario for years, traveling all over Canada and the United States to report on the latest innovations in the industry. His knowledge of farm issues was recognized by Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper Wednesday during a council meeting saying his reporting helped educate people about rural Ontario.
Phair also covered local community events, including in the pages of The Independent.
While his heart was in Petrolia, he had been living in Sarnia for some time. Family members say his greatest joy was is grandchildren. Phair would sometimes bring them along on assignments as his photographer.
Phair was also an active member of the Masons.
Visitation for Phair will be held Friday at Needham-Jay Funeral home. The funeral will be Saturday at 2pm.