04.26.2014 10:45 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: Mr. Gray

Let me you tell my Herb Gray stories.

First off, this: Herb Gray was an eminent citizen. He was a special person. He had an impact on this country. He was, truly, a great Canadian.

Each of those accolades has a specific meaning. Each one has been used to describe Herb Gray for a reason. I’ll tell you why at the end of this column.

Before that, however, let me tell you about Mr. Gray. That’s what we called him, those of us who had the privilege to work for and with him on Parliament Hill: “Mr. Gray.” Other MPs, and even cabinet ministers, might be called by their first names. Not Mr. Gray.

I met him in the Fall of 1990, when I quit my law practice to work in the office of Jean Chretien as his Special Assistant. Chretien had won the Liberal leadership in June, but he hadn’t won a seat in the House of Commons yet. Until he did so, Mr. Gray was acting leader in the House of Commons, and he ran the show in Question Period.

Assisted by the likes of Jerry Yanover and Bruce Hartley and Rick Wackid and others, Mr. Gray was a giant. He had kept the Liberal Party viable towards the end of John Turner’s reign – and, during a fractious Liberal leadership race, Mr. Gray was the glue that kept the party together.

One time, he asked me to write a speech for him. I can’t remember what it was about, but I remember he drove me crazy. Through draft after draft, revision after revision, Mr. Gray revealed himself to be a perfectionist – with no detail too small.

I would sit in his office, surrounded by hundreds of editorial cartoons about Herb Gray on the walls, and watch him run a pencil under certain phrases. “For emphasis,” he told me, and then he went to deliver the speech in a monotone that was his oratorical hallmark.

He was kind, and he was perceptive, too. When one issue broke in 1991 – the collapse of the shadowy Bank of Credit and Commerce International – I was on holiday with my family in Maine. I called Mr. Gray from a pay phone.

“I sense that you want to come back,” he said, correctly. “But stay there with your family. You need a break. We will keep it alive until you get back.” And so he did.

I never saw him lose his temper. I never saw him be rude. I never saw him exhibit anything but gentlemanly grace towards the women who worked for him for years, and who clearly adored him.

Mr. Gray wasn’t perfect, of course. He remained conspicuously absent from the Liberal leadership wars – leaving some of us Chretien loyalists wondering about the faith we had placed in him. (The Martin people probably wondered the same thing.)

He was inscrutable, but about some things, his love was apparent. His country, for whom he had become the first Jewish cabinet minister. His party, which he never let down. And his family – and particularly his remarkable wife Sharon, who achieved distinction in health care without any assistance from her powerful husband.

Mr. Gray died a few days ago, at the age of 82. I, and many others, were very sad to see him go.

Oh, and those words at the outset?

You know: that he was an eminent Canadian. That he was a special person. That he had an impact on this country. That he was, truly, a great Canadian.

Each of those descriptions are the requirements, if you will, for someone deserving of a state funeral. They’re taken right from the Government of Canada web site about state funerals.

I don’t think anyone begrudges Jim Flaherty getting a state funeral. Not at all.

But if Mr. Flaherty deserved one, then Mr. Gray sure as Hell did, too.

And that’s not just a Herb Gray story. That’s the truth.

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15 Comments

  1. David says:

    Brilliantly written. You should have this published on Tuesday.

  2. smelter rat says:

    Harper didn’t have the decency to even attend his funeral. Speaks volumes.

    • Lance says:

      Mulcair either apparently.

      • Ottlib says:

        Yes Lance, Mr. Mulclair did not attend his funeral but he also did not sit in The House at the same time as Mr. Gray did either.

        Mr. Harper did. He was a Member of Parliament at the same time as Mr. Gray. The classy thing for Mr. Harper to do was to at least pay his respects to a former colleague, even if they might not have agreed on much.

        Mr. Mulclair can be forgiven. Mr. Harper not so much.

    • TrueNorthist says:

      Here’s a little free advice for all of you trying to slime others with this: In the context of the death of a politician — or anyone for that matter — do not even attempt to score cheap political points. You simply come off looking like an angry crank. Speaks volumes about your character; or rather the lack of it.

  3. Another stain on Harper’s jacket!
    I never had anything to do personally with Mr Gray, and was not involved in politics during his tenure, but he has been part of my life. I remember him well, but never well enough to call him Mr Gray. And those accolades, well deserved and fortunate for all Canadians to have people like “Herb” serving our Country.

  4. Rural Roots says:

    Those of us with higher senses of what it means to be a public servant, and found ourselves fortunate enough to have passed the initiations necessary to become such, will recall collectively the value Mr. Gray brought to the esteemed position and role he played in serving Canadians. I agree with Warren – a state funeral would have been in order – yet regrettably, the Harper government wouldn’t condone same for a Liberal or, for that matter, any respected civil servant of an alternate political persuasion as this would be diametrically opposed to his message of portraying civics as an auspicious career – another sad day for the state of Canadian citizenry as reflected in its current form.

    Accolades to you Mr. Kinsella for being the only reasonably coherent, thoughtful, compassionate and well educated member of the Sun News network – your reportage is inspiring at times and this is one of them.

    • Matt says:

      Ummm……

      Did you sleep through NDP leader Jack Layton’s State Funeral?

      Harper has offered 3 State Funerals.

      Layton – Accepted by tye family.

      The last WW1 veteran – declined by the family.

      And obviously Jim Flaherty.

  5. squeakywheel says:

    If Liberals were in power when Flaherty passed.. I’m sure he would not have received a state funeral. If the liberals were in power when Herb passed, I’m sure he would have received a state funeral.

    Such is politics!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Merrill Smith says:

    Warren, you forgot to mention the one blemish on his career that disqualified him from a state funeral — he was a Liberal. Jack Layton may not have been a Conservative, but his father was, and Jack was of immense service to Harper as he clawed into the PM’s chair.

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