Jack Layton was on the phone to his mum when I walked in his Parliament Hill office.

"Yes Mum, I ate some soup. I slept well."

It was March, on the day of the federal budget. I listened to his side of a daily 'how ya doing' conversation between mother and son.

"I'm about to do an interview with Lisa LaFlamme," he said then put his hand over the receiver to say: "My mum says hello."

I was touched at how, on such an important day and under such obvious, physical frailty, he was eager to tell me how his mother was a news junkie and how the whole family had cheered when they heard I would move into Lloyd Robertson's chair in September.

Was this the politician in him talking -- just trying to get me on his good side?

No. This was Jack. So natural and comfortable in his skin, not pretentious or self-absorbed. Just Jack. The guy you could sit with for hours and discuss everything from Tommy Douglas to Justin Bieber. Whether he was talking with someone who supported his politics or not, he loved a good debate, loved to be challenged, and loved his country.

So professional but so personal. That was Jack, and his office walls screamed it. They were covered with photos of family, his own famous father, and more photos of world leaders he had met.

He was happy to give me the who's who of his wall of fame, leaning on his cane, unwilling to give in to the pain that he must have been feeling. Twice I saw him wince as he settled into a chair for the interview.

We discussed the politics of the day, the importance of the budget vote and his own dream for a better country. What struck me though, was our discussion about his own health. He was reluctant to reveal too much about his prognosis, unwilling to let it cloud the public's perception of his ability to lead his party into another election, should one be necessary.

He admitted he was frustrated by the limitations cancer had so harshly imposed on him but determined not to let it influence his decision on whether he should support the budget. He would do, he said, what was right for the country.

A 15-minute interview turned into an hour and he was now late for the budget lockup. He wouldn't reveal which way he was leaning but it was pretty clear he was trying to convince me that if anyone thought his health made him a weaker opponent, they were grossly underestimating his strength of mind.

Jack's decision that day, ultimately led to an election call. I watched him on the campaign trail, cane in hand, or at times, waving in the air, and constantly asked myself where he found the strength. The answer, I think -- his family and his passion. Not medicine enough for the long-term but enough to see this man reach an historic height: Leader of the Official Opposition.

Jack Layton was an inspiration to anyone suffering a debilitating disease, a daily reminder that it's not over 'til it's over, that even when the body falters, the mind is still vibrant and there is still a lot to say, change, and sing about. It's a message even (maybe especially) the healthy should hear and heed also.

It is heartbreaking that Jack Layton achieved the greatest accomplishment, not just in his life, but NDP history and was only allowed to taste it ever so briefly. Never allowed to savour the victory or perhaps even unpack his boxes in Stornoway.

I've thought about that interview a lot over the last few months -- it never aired until today. Canada has lost a leader and a genuinely good man.