He went to local schools in Calgary, finishing high school at Central Collegiate Institute. That’s where he whetted his political appetites, by proposing the formation of a students’ union and serving as its first president. Although slight of build and small of stature, Lougheed was quick of mind and movement and a natural athlete, especially on the football field. After Central Collegiate, he went to the University of Alberta, earning both an undergraduate and a law degree by 1952. At university, he played football for the Golden Bears and as a pro for the Edmonton Eskimos, as well as editing the sports section of the campus newspaper and serving as president of the student union from 1951-1952.
Even as a young man, Lougheed was a generalist who wanted to widen his business horizons and acquire a variety of experience before settling down in Alberta. First stop was acquiring a Harvard MBA. He and his bride, Jeanne Rogers, moved to Boston after their 1952 marriage. Before graduating in 1954, Lougheed spent one summer working with Gulf Oil in Tulsa, Okla., learning first hand the boom and bust cycle that is so often a part of the oil patch – an experience that he remembered later in his political career.
Believing that a successful politician needed to get his feet wet in business and law first, he took a job as a junior lawyer with a Calgary construction firm, Mannix Corporation. Four years later, he was a vice-president. He left Mannix in 1962 to open a law practice as a launching pad for a political career. At the time, Alberta regularly sent Progressive Conservatives to Ottawa. But at home, the province voted solidly for the Social Credit Party, first under William (Bible Bill) Aberhart, and after Aberhart’s death in 1943, Ernest Manning. The party was so popular that it won 60 of the 63 seats in the legislature in the 1963 election.
Undeterred, Lougheed believed it was time for the parochial province to interact more forcibly with the rest of the country and that he was the man to make it happen. Milton (Milt) Harradence stepped down as leader in 1964, Lougheed won the leadership of the seatless party the following year and declared that before the party could provide an opposition, it had to be a credible alternative. “I want to do my homework before I start talking about issues and solutions,” he told supporters. “I plan to meet people throughout Alberta to listen to their problems and uncover their needs.” It was the same advice he gave Redford 47 years later when she was facing her first provincial election as leader of the party.
In the 1967 election, the party fielded candidates in every riding; six were elected, including Lougheed in Calgary West, a seat he held for the next 19 years. As leader of the official opposition, Lougheed put forward his own policies and ideas, in contrast to the largely spent political drive of the Socreds. Through by-elections and defections, the PC caucus slowly increased its numbers to 10 and began grooming itself for leadership: In the 1970 spring session, the party introduced more than 20 bills.
When Harry Strom, the man who had succeeded Manning as leader in 1968, called an election for August, 1971, Lougheed was ready. Using the snappy one word slogan NOW! combined with his own cosmopolitan image, he routed the Socreds, especially in urban ridings, by taking every seat in Edmonton and all but five in Calgary. The PC party, which had been shut out of the legislature only eight years earlier, formed the government with a majority of 49 seats to 25 for the Socreds and one for the NDP.
Lougheed became premier at the beginning of a decade-long development boom, which netted him an even stronger mandate in the 1975 election, followed by two more landslide victories in 1979 and 1982, when his party was returned in 75 of 79 ridings. Having never forgotten the boom-bust cycle he observed in Oklahoma as an MBA student, he inaugurated Alberta’s rainy-day Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976, using royalties from the oil patch to make long-term investments in health care and medical research.