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Obituary

'He never, ever lost his roots' Add to ...

Mr. LeBlanc had married Joslyn (Lyn) Carter in 1966 while he was a Radio-Canada correspondent in Washington DC. Their eldest son Dominic was born in Ottawa on Dec. 14, 1967, the day Mr. Pearson announced his resignation as prime minister. Mr. LeBlanc, who was by then his press secretary, rushed from the news conference to the maternity hospital.

After weathering the October Crisis with Mr. Trudeau, he resigned as the prime minister's press secretary in 1971 and went back to New Brunswick, as assistant to the president and director of public relations at the University of Moncton. The following year he ran for Parliament, winning the riding of Westmoreland-Kent for the Liberals in 1972, about five weeks before his daughter Geneviève, now a civil servant in Ottawa, was born on Dec. 6, 1972.

Two years later he was made minister of fisheries in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet. At the time, he told Mr. Trudeau that he wanted to be for fishermen what Eugene Whelan was for farmers as the minister of agriculture. He represented various ministries for the next 10 years (except during Joe Clark's short-lived Progressive Conservative government in 1979) including environment and public works.

The LeBlancs separated in 1981, with Dominic living with his father and Geneviève with her mother in Ottawa. Father and son have remained extremely close. "He was the only parental figure I had," said his son. "He never pushed me to run for office," said Dominic LeBlanc, who is now the federal member of Parliament for his father's old riding. "He was at least as excited when I got my law degree and then a Masters in Law from Harvard."

As a cabinet minister, Mr. LeBlanc supported Mr. Chrétien's unsuccessful bid against John Turner for the Liberal leadership, in the wake of Mr. Trudeau's retirement. In one of his last patronage appointments before leaving office, Mr. Trudeau named him to the Senate in 1984, a position he held for the next decade. When Mr. Chrétien became prime minister in 1993, he made Mr. LeBlanc Speaker of the Senate and the following year, the Queen took Mr. Chrétien's advice and made his old friend and political crony her governor-general.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Leblanc had begun a serious relationship with Diana Fowler, sister of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler. They had met in London in the early 1960s in London when they were broadcast journalists for the French and English branches of the CBC. Late in 1994, on the eve of Mr. LeBlanc's appointment to succeed Ray Hnatyshyn - after Hockey legend Jean Belliveau had declined the honour - the couple was quietly and quickly married.

As governor-general, Mr. LeBlanc was criticized for rarely travelling to the western provinces and sticking close to the familiar territory of Quebec, the Maritimes and the national capital region, but he did make a particular effort to bring a refreshed féderaliste brand to Quebec communities after the perilously close séparatiste referendum in 1995. He also made Rideau Hall and the office of the governor-general more accessible to Canadians by moving the annual New Year's Levée to various locations around the country, and expanding and improving access to both the vice-regal residence and the grounds. The number of visitors increased dramatically to about 125,000 people per year.

After hosting the eighth Francophonie summit in Moncton, N.B. in 1999 and squiring French president Jacques Chirac around his Acadian home town of Memramcook, N.B., Mr. LeBlanc retired as Canada's 25th governor-general after fewer than five years in office, citing fatigue and a desire to be gone before the anticipated pressures of the nillennium. He had received diplomats from 150 countries, pinned the Order of Canada on the chests of nearly 700 recipients, entertained close to 70,000 guests, delivered some 900 speeches, embarked on nine foreign trips and represented Canada at the funerals of three world leaders, including King Hassan of Morocco and former president Francois Mitterand of France.

Following a ceremonial and an emotional send-off from Mr. Chrétien and his wife Aline and several Liberal cabinet ministers, a final inspection of the Governor-General's Foot Guards and the Canada Grenadier Guards, Mr. LeBlanc and his wife returned to Moncton by train, although she has spent increasing amounts of time in Montreal in the last few years.

"I'm looking forward to doing nothing at all," Mr. LeBlanc told the throng of 200 well wishers who gathered at the station to welcome him home. That wasn't exactly true as he served as Chancellor of the University of Moncton for the next two years.

By then, he had long since lost the hearing in his right ear and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He has spent the last few years living with 24 hour care in the modified family cottage in Grande Digues, between Bouctouche and Shediac, on the Northumberland Strait.

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