In 2005, John “Jaydee” de Munnik, then 62, started having trouble speaking.
A long-time smoker, his difficulty turned out to be throat cancer. A tumour was growing quickly, and it began to press on his trachea, interfering with his breathing. In May that year he needed emergency surgery: an eight-hour tracheotomy that meant John would no longer breathe through his nose or mouth but rather a small hole, called a stoma, at the base of his throat.
Now 69, the retired engineering technician is a cancer fundraiser – but purely by accident. Shortly after his surgery, when he still lived in Sherwood Park, he was a frequent patron of Smilie’s, a local restaurant and lounge. One day de Munnik offered a helping hand to a Smilie’s server. He delivered a set of condiments to customers who mistook him for a waiter and asked him something. When he couldn’t respond, the idea of The Silent Waiter was born.
STILL SMILING: John “Jaydee” de Munnik’s alter ego, The Silent Waiter, first caused patrons at Smilie’s in Sherwood Park to laugh – and then to donate to the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
In October 2008, The Silent Waiter (de Munnik, dressed in an oversized bowtie and hat) appeared at Smilie’s nightly, to clown around and serve a written joke with each meal. (“Your dazzling beauty is fogging up my glasses. Why did you bring HIM?”) Patrons ate it up and the proceeds – $12,500 – went to the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
“I have a good sense of humour and it helped me get through cancer,” says de Munnik. His enthusiasm and humour really appealed to the Smilie’s crowd and to people in Lac La Biche where Jaydee now lives. In the summer of 2011, The Silent Waiter performed around town – the Senior’s Fish Fry, a pancake breakfast, local businesses and even some street performances. “We raised $9,000 in Lac La Biche this year and $2,000 at Smilie’s in Sherwood Park.” His running total is $23,500.
After surgery, Jaydee had to learn to speak again. It’s a raspy whisper, but fortunately, it still lets him deliver a punch line.