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Former PMs, other dignitaries turn out for ex-MP Herb Gray’s funeral

Former prime minister Paul Martin speaks during the funeral of former MP Herb Gray in Ottawa April 25, 2014.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Herb Gray was remembered Friday as a lion of Liberal politics who never had a bad word to say about anyone during his four decades in Parliament.

The long-time MP from Windsor, Ont., died Monday at the age of 82.

Former prime ministers Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, John Turner and Joe Clark, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin were among the dignitaries who gathered at a suburban Ottawa synagogue to pay their respects to Gray.

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Martin illustrated Gray's wit and oratory prowess during Question Period in the House of Commons with a story about Listerine PocketPaks.

The two were seat mates and Gray saw Martin pop a breath strip into his mouth and asked for one. Martin handed the package to Gray and turned back to listen to question period.

"All of a sudden, I hear beside me this explosion. I looked to my right and there was Herb, his face puffed out, red, sweat coming down, tears welling up and he could barely gasp and talk, and he said, 'What was in that thing?"' Martin said.

"He gave me back the box and I said, 'Herb, there are 20 slivers in there and you took all of them."'

Of course, that was the moment a member of the Opposition decided to ask Gray a question.

"Herb had no idea and I had no idea because we were concerned with our immediate medical urgency. But Herb knew that he had to stand up. He didn't know what the question was," Martin said.

"And so he stood up and he said, 'Mr. Speaker, the premise, as is always, of the member's question is off the mark. But Mr. Speaker, I know what the question is. And it is so absurd that I am filled with emotion and I cannot stop crying.'

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"And with that he sat down. And the poor member opposite didn't know what to do, and by the time that he had recovered, Herb was able to answer the supplementary [question]."

His children, Jonathan and Elizabeth, told the mourners about their father's caring nature.

Jonathan Gray recalled how he and his father would build models and read Hardy Boys books together.

"When I was very young, I had a fear of the dark," he said. "So my father would spend every night in the big yellow La-Z-Boy recliner doing his work by the lamplight so I could fall asleep."

There had been calls for Gray to receive a state funeral to honour his four decades in the House of Commons as a Windsor MP.

Martin was among those who argued that Gray deserved the best possible send off.

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But the Prime Minister's Office said Tuesday that while Gray was a "great Canadian and a tremendous parliamentarian," there would not be a state funeral.

Such funerals are typically held for sitting and former prime ministers and governors general, as well as sitting cabinet ministers. There have been two notable exceptions, for former finance minister Jim Flaherty last week and for NDP Leader Jack Layton in 2011.

In his 40 years as a Liberal MP, Gray held several cabinet portfolios, and was deputy prime minister from 1997 until 2002, when he left active politics.

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