"I've known him since we were 20 years old," said Mr. Lalonde, who met Mr. LeBlanc where they were both associated with the religious youth group, Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique in 1948. He was a very jovial and pleasant fellow with a great sense of humour that he kept all his life."
It was Mr. Lalonde, who was working in the Pearson PMO as a policy adviser, who suggested Mr. LeBlanc when the prime minister was looking for a new bilingual press secretary.
"He had a good sense of politics and media relations and when Mr. Trudeau was elected [leader of the party]and I became his principal secretary, I wanted to keep Romeo and he agreed to do so and the rest is history.
"He turned out to be a very effective politician and a very good one. He was unflappable and a pleasure to work with as a colleague either in the PMO or the cabinet. He had no enemies that I knew of, while I am sure I had a lot," said Mr. Lalonde.
It was a measure of Mr. LeBlanc's equanimity that he and Mr. Trudeau, although seemingly disparate as individuals, became life long friends. In fact, Mr. Trudeau's last trip before his death on Sept. 28, 2000, was a four-day fishing holiday in the first week of August with his son Sacha and Mr. LeBlanc and his son Dominic at a secluded hunting lodge in the Miramichi area of New Brunswick.
Mr. LeBlanc first ran for public office in 1972 in Westmoreland Kent (now Beausejour), a New Brunswick riding that he held for the Liberals for more than a decade. He held a variety of cabinet posts in the Trudeau era, but he was best known as the fisheries minister who imposed the 200-mile coastal fishing ban on foreign trawlers, expanded the salmon fishery on the west coast and generally gave small operators a louder voice in fishery management. He was also a key figure in the dominant role Canada played in the Law of the Sea conferences in the 1970s.
"His contribution to public life was immense," said his old friend and fellow Acadian Donald Savoie, Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance, because he represented the basic elements of this country, "whether it was English/French, urban/ rural, the working poor" and he remained loyal to a simple, coherent belief that these elements mattered, whether he was "a backbencher, a cabinet minister or the Governor-General," said Prof. Savoie.
"That was Romeo. It defined him and because it defined him, it defined what he stood for and the policies he promoted, not always to the liking of the Ottawa system."
Romeo-Adrian LeBlanc was born Dec. 18, 1927, in Memramcook (now L'Anse-aux-Cormier), New Brunswick. His Acadian ancestors, who had refused to take sides in the Seven Years War, had been expelled by the British in 1755 from what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. By 1770, some of them had trickled back and settled in Memramcook, which is now considered the cradle of the New Acadia.
His father, Phillias Leblanc, a mechanic who worked at the CNR railway yards in Moncton, also had a small family farm. He and his wife Lucie Leblanc had eight children, of whom Romeo was the youngest. She died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when he was six years old. His father never remarried so his oldest sister, Irene, became the maternal figure in his life.
Mr. Leblanc went to a one-room school house through grade eight and then attended Collège St-Joseph (now the University of Moncton), a Collège Classique run by the Holy Cross brothers. Two of his older sisters, who were working as maids in Boston, sent money home from their wages to pay his tuition, which his father augmented by cutting and delivering firewood to the priests. Mr. Leblanc never forgot this loving debt, which he repaid several times over when his older siblings and their families needed his help in later years.
If I am to be known for anything as governor-general, I would like it to be for encouraging Canadians, for knowing a little bit about their daily, extraordinary courage. Romeo Leblanc
After graduating with a bachelor of arts in 1948 and education in 1951, he taught high school for two years and then won a scholarship to study French civilization at the Université de Paris from 1953-55. He wanted to come back to Canada and study law at McGill University, but his family's economic resources had been taxed to the limit by then, so instead, he found a teaching job at the New Brunswick Teachers' College in Fredericton from 1955 to 1959.
He switched from teaching to journalism in 1960 when he was hired by Radio-Canada, working for the francophone network in bureaus in Ottawa, Britain and the United States. In 1967, centennial year, he used his journalistic skills to get a communications position as press secretary to prime minister Lester B. Pearson, a position he continued to hold, after Mr. Trudeau became prime minister in 1968.