As the furor broke over Danny Williams's decision to go to the United States for heart surgery, it was one of his most trusted lieutenants who appeared before reporters.
Kathy Dunderdale, who will become acting premier of Newfoundland and Labrador next week, said that Mr. Williams was "doing what's best for him." She refused to reveal details on the procedure or how it would be financed.
Alex Marland, an assistant professor of political science at Memorial University, said that Ms. Dunderdale's appearance that February day spoke volumes about how close she is with Mr. Williams. He called her "the prototypical Danny Williams loyalist," but struggled when asked about her own political legacy.
"The biggest one that comes to mind is simply being Deputy Premier and being Danny Williams' most loyal soldier," Prof. Marland said.
Ms. Dunderdale grew up in Burin and got her first taste of politics as a town councillor and then deputy mayor of her small hometown. She was elected to the provincial legislature in 2003 and has risen through the ranks. She was appointed deputy premier in 2008, among other roles, and has survived controversial issues - including acting as minister of natural resources at a time when Innu were killing protected caribou as a political gesture.
Observers expect her to be a caretaker while acting as premier. The next election is fixed for the autumn of 2011, and the Progressive Conservatives are likely to choose a new leader as soon as possible.
Ms. Dunderdale is seen as a credible contender, as is Health Minister Jerome Kennedy and several Tories who left office during the Williams administration. But all candidates will have a long shadow over them.
"Danny Williams has been getting support across the political spectrum," said pollster Don Mills, head of Corporate Research Associates. "I'd hate to be the person following him. Basically, cause what are you going to do? There's nowhere to go but down."
Whither the women
Women hold the premier's position now in one province and a territory. In all, only five women have led a provincial or territorial government in Canada.
Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland to take over from Danny Williams.
Eva Aariak was selected in 2008 as Premier of Nunavut under the territory's consensus system, which picks a premier from among those elected to the legislature.
Catherine Callbeck, of Prince Edward Island was the first - and still the only - woman in Canada to lead a party to victory in a provincial election, in 1993. Three years later her government was defeated; she is now a federal senator.
Nellie Cournoyer was chosen by consensus as premier of the Northwest Territories in 1991 and served until 1995; she did not run for re-election to the legislature.
Rita Johnston became Canada's first female premier in April, 1991 when she succeeded Bill Vander Zalm as leader of British Columbia's Social Credit Party. The ensuing November her party was trounced in an election.