Geoff and Jo-Anne Tooton’s wedding song was “The Love in Your Eyes” and they repeated those words to one another daily for more than 44 years, so the phrase was among the last things they said to each other before he died this week in Halifax.
Geoff, who was involved in the renowned Newfoundland and Labrador photography business for about 20 years, died Tuesday at 67 years old in the palliative care unit of the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. The couple had moved to Nova Scotia in 2016 to be near their growing family.
Because he always wanted to be a donor, the couple planned for Geoff’s corneas to be donated, hopefully going to someone requiring a cornea transplant, Jo-Anne said in a telephone interview Friday.
For Jo-Anne, it’s a comfort that his corneas might go on to “see all the beauty in people, in Newfoundland, in Nova Scotia and in life.” she said.
Their love for this province was unwavering. He will be remembered this summer in St. John’s in a service at Carnell’s Funeral Home, and will be interred in Conception Bay South, as was his dream.
He spent childhood summers in Topsail, exploring the woods and the beach with his siblings.
The couple also loved hiking the East Coast Trail, Jo-Anne said.
“He loved Newfoundland, loved the history. We would always go for drives and he would always drive to the end of the road to see what was there. We’d park and marvel at the scenery,” she said.
In his illness, the family often played Newfoundland music.
“As he sat on the side of the bed last weekend, as weak as he was, his feet were moving to a jig,” Jo-Anne said.
Jo-Anne, a retired teacher, met Geoff through mutual friends and it was love at first sight, she said.
She remembered her husband as a gentleman and life-long learner, who would never give up his pursuit of knowledge.
“He was a kind man, very loving, very much a family man, very involved in the community, very compassionate,” she said.
“No matter what he did actually, he was always looking to do better, to make people proud or to make his family proud really.”
He enjoyed running for fitness and ran at least seven marathons.
“On the last few days of his life, that’s what family kept saying to him, ‘You’re running your final marathon,’ encouraging him across the finish line, to let go, that we are alright, we were fine and we would be OK,” Jo-Anne said.
Geoff’s lifelong love of music extended to studyiing piano both early and later on in life with the late Andreas Barban, a renowned piano teacher who had escaped the Holocaust, Jo-Anne said.
While he was serious minded, he enjoyed fun, including playing Santa at family gatherings, work and children’s parties, Jo-Anne said.
Geoff Tooton served as president of the family business, Tooton’s Photography, from 1979-95.
The business was founded by his grandfather, Anthony Maurice Tooton, who was born in Damascus, Syria, and created the first Kodak distributorship in the world in Tooton’s Ltd. (1905-1995), according the description of “Tooton’s Photography: In the Business of Making Memories” by filmmaker Anthony M. Tooton, Geoff and Jo-Anne’s son.
During his involvement in the business Geoff oversaw the growth of Tooton’s throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well as in Nova Scotia and when the traditional photo industry declined, endeavours included a number of public and private sector positions with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Irving Oil Limited, Convergys CMG Canada Limited Partnership and the Business Development Bank of Canada, among other acheivements, according to his obituary.
He was a president of both the St. John’s Board of Trade and the Rotary Club of St. John’s and Jo-Anne recalled at the time they were raising a young family, but he always found time to give back to the community and the business sector, continuing a family tradition of community mindedness.
Geoff’s father, Raymond, remarked Friday on his son’s kindness, and genuine interest in people.
After they moved to Halifax, Geoff opened the Halifax franchise of The Alternative Board International (TAB), bringing together local business owners, the obituary said.
In response to Geoff Tooton’s passing, St. John’s Board of Trade CEO Nancy Healey issued a statement Friday.
“Geoff was our 12th president, who throughout his term, focused on the’welfare of the consumer’ and concentrated a number of his speeches on how retailers could enhance their customer's experience,” Healey said in the statement.
“May he rest in peace.”
Besides his wife, father and son, he is survived by his mother, Catherine, daughter Allison Himmelman and her spouse Stephen, three grandchildren and other family members.