Former governor-general Roméo LeBlanc died in his home that faces the ocean in Grande-Digue, N.B. He will be buried next week in Memramcook, the New Brunswick village where he was born, after a state funeral that is expected to take place in a beautiful little chapel at St. Joseph's College.
He was 81 and had suffered from Alzheimer's disease. His son, Dominic, a Liberal MP who represents the riding he held from 1972 to 1984, was with him when he died yesterday at 11:30 a.m. The two were very close.
Despite the vice-regal trappings and the power of politics, Romeo LeBlanc never strayed far from his home.
"He went back to what he was," former prime minister Jean Chrétien said. "All these many occupations he had and honours and so on did not go to his head. He remained what he was. It was a good example."
Mr. Chrétien said that when he visited Mr. LeBlanc 10 days ago, "it was evident he was not to live very long." While it was difficult to see his former colleague that way, Mr. Chrétien said he was not about to pass by his house "and not try to salute him.
"He was a great Canadian and he was a very good man and a person who remained close to the people," said Mr. Chrétien, who will be attending the funeral.
The two men were good friends, having served together in Pierre Trudeau's cabinet. Mr. LeBlanc supported Mr. Chrétien's two leadership bids. In 1993, Mr. Chrétien appointed Mr. LeBlanc speaker of the Senate and two years later to the vice-regal post. He was the first Acadian to serve as governor-general.
His term included the 1995 referendum in which Quebec came close to separating. It was a difficult time for every politician, especially for a francophone who grew up outside of Quebec. Mr. LeBlanc remained neutral.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement characterizing Mr. LeBlanc as a "passionate Canadian who served his country with honour and distinction." Governor-General Michaëlle Jean signed a condolence book at Rideau Hall yesterday. The public can sign the book beginning today.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, but Canadian Heritage said it would be a state funeral.
Former New Brunswick MP Paul Zed, who is now chief of staff to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, began working in 1980 as a summer student for Mr. LeBlanc, who was then Minister of Fisheries. He is to be a pallbearer.
Mr. Zed said the Senate wasn't one of Mr. LeBlanc's "favourite places" and that the job as governor-general was not "a dream job" - he preferred being a cabinet minister and MP.
"What really stands out about Romeo is really this sense of fairness and this sense of ordinary Canadians," said Mr. Zed, remembering how difficult it was "putting a tux on him" when he became governor-general.
Mr. Zed said his former boss, who was "quite ideologically left of centre," loved being fisheries minister and the political minister for New Brunswick where he would do battle - and win - with his Atlantic colleagues in cabinet and the late New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield.
Warren Kinsella worked with Mr. LeBlanc during the 1993 election campaign: "Chrétien wisely decided that those of us in the Liberal war room needed some adult supervision and Romeo became the war room boss. He was calm, he was strategic."
Mr. LeBlanc was a good teacher and good friend; Mr. Kinsella is in charge of the Ignatieff war room for the next election and his daughter, Emma, 13, is Mr. LeBlanc's goddaughter.
"We have a very sad little girl here today," Mr. Kinsella said.