Alan Michael "Big Gay Al" Johnston

27.November.1970 - 22.March.2002

Reid Johnston, Alan Michael - Suddenly on March 22, 2002. Beloved husband of Janice and dear father of Liam. Loving son of Donald (Jane) Johnston, Toronto, and Valarie (Dave) Whitton, Bracebridge. Cherished brother of Tya, Chris, Maggie, Andy, Robert, and David. Alan will be sadly missed by grandmothers Peggy McEwan and Peg Johnston, his aunt, uncles and cousins and the many people who lives he touched, in particular his Toronto courier friends. His life, though short, was fully lived with exuberance and panache. Alan will be remembered for his wonderful sense of humour, compassion and magnanimity. Interment at Toronto Necropolis, at 200 Winchester Street, near Riverdale Park.

It would be easy to call Al many things... friend - confidant - showman - freak.
He was all of this to me and more. In the time I have known him, again and again he showed me the things that made our relationship special. Always one to have a good word when I was feeling down. Always attuned to when I felt this way. At the best of times he had the ability to make a good time even better.

We had a term for what we had together and that was "vault buddy." We always knew that anything said in confidence would go no further, yet knew each other well enough to share these things with others if it was for a greater good. Anytime I needed a friend to hang out with he was at the top of my list, and usually I would not have to go to number 2.

On occasion we gave each other reason to be mad or angry with the other. But he would never hold on to this, on top of that never letting me hold on to it either. His personality was so infectious. There was never any way I could stay mad at him for long. On the occasion I would be stubborn, he would grab me, hug me in his very special Al-like way, and tell me "You'll cave, Oh, You'll cave" he was right, I always did.

He was a man to do things his own way. to make his mistakes trying to accomplish things in life, yet never let this detract from who he was inside. Janice mentioned to me something he said recently. Sink or swim I will do it on my own terms. And this was something he always did not stray from. being true to himself. Something a great many of us cannot say.

I can truly say I only hold on to good memories of him. From our clandestine trips to montreal of a few years ago, racing together,singing karaoke together, or just hanging out. We went to see our favorite band Weezer recently, and in a sea of 14 and 15 year olds, the big man showed me that he hadn't nor planned to be anything less than 100% Al. We had nother chance to see this band together, but alas my ticket fell through. Being the generous, thoughtful man he was, he gave me his ticket.He did not want to go without me, and as soon as I got there it was apparent that it would not be the same without my Weezer Buddy Al.

What you saw was who he was... Generous - Considerate - Gregarious.
Never afraid to show his heart on his sleeve. He loved all who gave him the chance. Was so incredibly open with those close to him and those he wished to know better. To call him simply charming does not cover it. He had a special way with people. Showing everyone his very unique zest for life. All who knew him will be touched by his passing, and as I have learned recently, touched many who had never met him in person.The stories of Big Gay Al are told in many places and will always be a part of messenger lore.

A proud Scot ... An even prouder Newfoundlander ... Showing all the heritage he held dear. His messenger bag was made to show part of this, and will be soon making a trip around the world on the backs of those who knew him and those who did not. Allowing part of him to see all the places he did not have the opportunity to see.

I will miss him terribly in body but also realize that his spirit will always stay with me.
Big Gay Al to most
Alerage Michaelovich Reid-Johnstonianland to me.
100% friend
200% character
I will miss you buddy.

-Keith McDonald

My Dearest Al,

I know you've been able to watch these last couple of weeks unfold from your new heavenly perch, so you'll know that I've been with my darling family most of the time since you passed; they pretty much had me under house arrest for the first week. Mike has been my keeper, God bless him, Joanne even came up from Arizona, and my whole family has been there for us. Also our incredible friends have been right there, anytime, anywhere. Now I am back at work and at home, and there are a few thoughts and memories I wanted to share with you, and with everyone out there who knew and loved you.

The outpouring of love and support for you has been phenomenal. Your family really pulled together to make arrangements that were right for you, and they included me in the various decisions, and were so good to me throughout, they really are terrific people. I've had some great conversations with your mom, she's so amazing, and your dad, who's been wonderful, and dear Maggie, she's so strong, but I know she's really missing you. Also, I finally met your sister Tya, she's just as sweet as you said she was. I know you loved them all so much, and they obviously adored you, too.

I wasn't able to speak at the funeral; I didn't feel strong enough. I am so impressed by those who managed it; your dad, God bless him, who set the tone and injected some humour into the proceedings, then Ben and Keith, who were both so eloquent, and who managed to be totally respectful while still making us laugh a little; then your stepdad Dave, who likened your life to a bicycle race, that was so cool; and my dear brother Mike (or as you called him, brotherbrotherbrotherbrotherbrother); I am so proud of all of them.

I know you must have just loved seeing the huge turnout at the visitation and the funeral. The funeral home had to open a second guest book after the first one filled up, and the funeral was SRO. I really hope you knew how loved you were, but if you ever had a doubt, it's erased now. The service was so great, I know you were smiling along with the rest of us at the memories, and everyone knows how much you love to be the centre of attention. The only thing that would have made you happier was to be buck-naked in the casket for all to see (and admire, if you don't mind my saying so). We didn't think we should go quite that far, but of course we dressed you in your favourite kilt (the one Crissima gave you) with nary an undergarment beneath.

I also picked out some of your favourite things, and put them in the casket with you; your Maple Leaf jersey, your Raptor's baseball cap; the Laker's flag I brought you back from L.A., our wedding invitation, some great photos of you and I, some of you with friends, and some of you and Lucy; the Mighty Mighty Weezer CD; and our housekey. I know you don't need a key anymore, you can travel anywhere you want now, but it's more a symbol that my home will always be your home. Karen put in some photos of Liam, a pair of little sneakers you picked out for him, and the blanket you brought him home in. Others put in items of their own that they wanted you to have. At first it seemed that you would have to be put to rest in some cemetery in the burbs, but your dad managed to get you into the gorgeous old Necropolis by Riverdale Park. I know you loved the park and the neighbourhood, and we picked out a beautiful spot; I'm sure you're going to have many many visitors.

I remember when we first met down at Spreads in the spring of 1998. I had been going to Critical Mass rides, and hanging out down there a bit. Well one fine night a tall, blonde, dreamy, funny fellow approached me, and that was it; we knew right away that we had to be together, but we also knew it wasn't possible at the time. Over the next year, we tried to forget each other and get on with our separate lives, though we did keep in touch.

Of course your dear son Liam was born the next fall, on November 1st, 1998. He brought such joy to you, and I know you've always had much respect and affection for Karen, Liam's mom. Karen has always included you so much in Liam's life, even though they live in Calgary now, with phonecalls, sending photos and some hilarious home videos. Liam is at the age now where you and he were having some great phone conversations (you told me recently that "he shoots, he SCORES" is his current favourite expression). You were so looking forward to having Liam come to visit and stay with us from time to time as he gets older, so you and he could really get to know each other, and Liam could see what a cool biker dude his dad was. Karen is making sure that you will always be a big part of Liam's life, and I am putting together a package of keepsakes that she'll give to him when he gets older.

The next summer, in July of 1999, I went to London for work, then spent a week traveling around Ireland. When I returned on August 1st, you were there waiting for me. From that day on we were inseparable, and head-over-heels. In September, when we were at the patio of Utopia, you took a fancy pen and wrote on my hand "Will U Marry Me?" I laughed, and cried a bit, then I said yes. A month later, on October 16th, 1999 we were married aboard the "Maid of the Mist" in Niagara Falls, followed by an alleycat race through the streets of Niagara Falls. It was the happiest, funnest day of my life, and I'll never forget it.

Of course, we certainly had our "challenges" throughout our time together, and you even lived away from home at times, but we also had some of the most wonderful times I've ever had in my life. The one constant was that we just couldn't stop loving each other, no matter how difficult things were. Over the last few months, we often said we couldn't believe we still had such strong feelings for each other after all we'd been through. I had been speaking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and I told her that despite all our problems, I wouldn't trade a second of the time we'd spent together; I hope you knew that.

We had actually decided we couldn't live together, and you had an apartment ready for April 1st., We had to admit though, that we "couldn't get this separation thing right", and continued to see each other anyway. The weekend before you passed, we spent 3 full days together, lying by the fire, eating, drinking wine, listening to music, just enjoying each other. That weekend, you wrote on my hand "Will U Marry Me Again Someday?" Needless to say, I said yes. Wednesday night of the next week we were together again, and had another wonderful night. The next day we said "I love you" to one another and you left for work; that was the last time I saw you; you passed away late that night. We know that you didn't suffer, and we're all so thankful for that.

I feel incredibly lucky that things were positive between us at the end, and that you knew how much I love you; I always truly believed we would end up together again someday. You also knew how much you were loved by your friends, and the feeling was obviously mutual, everyone who met you instantly loved you, and you were in your element in the middle of a big bunch of friends, talking and laughing and drinking beer.

I always felt so "right" with you, being with you was the most natural thing in the world, whether we were watching "Coronation Street" or the hockey game, or playing pool, or picnicking at Sunnyside Park, or taking our little doggy Lucy down the slide at Dufferin Grove Park (you and Lucy loved each other SO much, it was so adorable to see you together).

We have some great ideas to honour you. I think you'll really love them; we're going to hold a race in your honour in the next month or so (maybe we'll call it the "First Annual Consummation Resurrection Classic", where all the checkpoints will be the parks and other public spaces where we, you know, "enjoyed each other"; could be one long race, huh, Baby?

There are lots of other plans in the works, too; your courier bag, now known as the "Alan Reid Johnston Memorial Courier Bag," will be sent all around the world on the backs of couriers everywhere, and will receive a patch from each locale, eventually to return home to rest, perhaps at Spreads, or Courier Cavern? John Kenda, who flew in for your funeral, will be coordinating it. As well, there has been one benefit already, at Spreads, and another is planned for this Saturday at Sneakys. Money collected is going towards a college fund for Liam, which your dad is administering through his law firm. Also, Sharon and I are planning a memorial at Cloud Park. We haven't worked out all the details yet, but we'll have singing, and dancing, and laughter and tears, and we're going to try to put up a plaque of some sort for you, legally or otherwise I've also heard rumours that your bike frame will be permanently attached to the Spreads sign! No shortage of ideas to show how much we all love you, Handsome Man!

I don't quite understand yet that you will not be here in a physical sense anymore, it has yet to actually hit me. You were the most loving, giving, funniest, sexiest, most generous person I have ever known, and I will never stop loving you; I feel so lucky that we found each other that spring night. You were absolutely exceptional, and all your friends and family are so lucky to have had you in our lives. You will be a part of all of us forever, and for that we can be truly thankful.

All My Love,
Your wife Janice

Dear Al,

I hadn't thought that this would be easy to write and looking at the photos on the rest of this page aren't making it any easier. I have a picture of you and I that was taken in Montreal in 1998 and I have been carrying it to school with me and looking at it from time to time. My History class is particularly boring and looking at the picture and remembering how much fun we had that weekend makes it go by a lot faster. I was really disillusioned with messengering at the time and meeting you and Keith and Craig and Derek in Montreal gave me a better outlook on our shared profession. I was so pleased to have become friends with you guys that I started traveling to Toronto on a regular basis. It seemed that you were always wanting to show me around the city but as far as I was concerned we could have just sat in the same place all day and hung out. I was just happy to be there visiting all of you and I always went home happy.

I was traveling in New York City when I got a message from Keith telling me to call him. I had to call Maria in Vienna to get Keith's number which is emblematic of the international community of messengers that you were a part of. Maria told me that you had died and it just broke my heart when she told me. The next few days were a blur. I was able to leave school and attend your funeral and I am very pleased to have done so. I didn't truly believe you were gone until I saw you for myself. I left you a few things in your coffin as a token of my esteem for you. I hope that you liked them.

A lot of people spoke at your funeral. Keith did such a good job of speaking about how much we loved you. I could not have done as well as he did and even now am having a hard time believing you are gone. Your parents and entire family were a pillar of strength. I am amazed at how well they were carrying their grief. They ended up consoling me and everyone else at the funeral. I have been in touch with your father since then and will continue to do so.

I am going to compete with your Newfoundland bag that you loved so much at the European Messenger championships. I may not win but I will be having the most fun of anyone there because I will be carrying a part of you on my back. If you could somehow send me some of your massive physical strength that day maybe I can carry your bag to a respectable finish. However that day goes I will be honored to carry your bag for the short time that I have it.

The last time I saw you we were on Toronto Island all day playing softball with your friends. You were so happy that day running around in the sun with all of us and being your goofy self. In time, I will try to remember that day with you the most.

I hope I was as good a friend to you as you were to me. I will think of you every time I see Big Bird on Sesame Street and every time I go to a messenger event.

Godspeed my friend. I'll see you soon enough and I am sure you'll have all the good spots mapped out for us to visit.

John Kenda
Boston Massachusetts

I have been impressed with Al's courier friends. They have such great hearts - which they seem to wear on the sleeves for everyone to see - and so much love and concern for one another. I would like to be more like them in many ways. Now when I walk into the hang-outs where they hang out (sorry - but that's why they call them hang-outs), every- one jumps up and claps me on the back and makes me feel like a celebrity. I knew Al was quite a guy, but I didn't know that everyone else seemed to know it too.

I have some more information about Al: he was born November 27, 1970, in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. His mother and I named him after one of my uncles, who also died way too young and who, like Al, was a great story-teller, joker and charismatic personality.

He left behind two sisters and a half brother. (Actually, he's big, like Al, and deserves to be regarded as a "whole" brother.) And me, his dad, and his mom, Valarie Whitton. And about a million friends.

I will miss him a lot.

- Don Johnston,
Al's father

for you to be

a footprint (this footprint is sometimes tentative.  it hasn't settled fully
into the sand, as yet.  it's hard to see the markings


there's a big circle of mark over mark, each pointing in a slightly different direction,

no, wait, i see the footprint coming out of the
circle.  it's heading towards the mountains.  of course.  it wouldn't
take the easy route.  not this footprint.)

that led to

a footprint (this footprint is very clear.  it's etched boldly in the sand.

it's a strong footprint.  the footprint of a man who knows where he is,
and where he's going, and is happy to be on that journey.  his long legs
stride forward.  

his arms are swinging.  erect.  shoulders straight.  nose like
a hawk.  

there's no hesitation.  he's laughing.  my God, what a laugh.  
i see
       him.  i do.  he's wearing a kilt)

that led to
Liam (soft baby toes.  jumping in the sand.  and laughing, too.  proud
of each discovery.  fat little hands reaching down.  he's gathering great
lumps of sand in his fists.  

he's throwing so much about him that the whole
world has sand in its hair.  he likes making the world his.)

-by Baillie Hill