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Alberta's much-loved Lieutenant-Governor, Lois Hole, has died, the Premier's office said Friday.

Ms. Hole, who had been battling cancer, died in an Edmonton hospital on Thursday. She was 71.

On Friday afternoon, her sons told reporters in Edmonton that she will be fondly remembered by Albertans for her compassion and her hugs.

One son, Bill Hole, choked back tears as he remembered how his mother loved to tell stories and how most of her conversations ended with a hug. Her other son, Jim Hole, said his mother liked to gather people with wide ranging opinions to share their views, which led to some lively arguments at their dinner table.

Ms. Hole's family has requested a private funeral but a public memorial is being arranged.

Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to announce her replacement early next week.

Long before she was appointed as the Queen's representative in Alberta, Ms. Hole made a name for herself as a gardening guru, philanthropist and education advocate.

Before political life, the respected horticulturist, along with her husband Ted, owned and operated Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens near Edmonton - one of the largest such operations in Western Canada.

Friendly and characteristically cheerful, Ms. Hole was the author of six best-selling books on gardening and was a regular contributor to newspapers and radio programs.

It was, however, her personal warmth, fondness for children and penchant for dispensing hugs wherever she went that endeared her to Albertans. Ms. Hole stunned many when she announced in February, 2003, that she had abdominal cancer and was pursuing an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy.

One month later, her husband died of cancer. In the program at his memorial, she wrote how when she met him at university in 1950, she promptly broke her childhood vow never to marry a farmer.

"Her demeanour and her warm heart and her smile and her way of giving cookies and hugs, and the tremendous energy she puts into the job takes away the mystique of power," Premier Ralph Klein said of Ms. Hole when her cancer diagnosis was made public.

Mel Hurtig, Edmonton author, political activist and close friend of Ms. Hole's, called her one of the greatest human beings ever.

"Such warmth, such genuine affection, such humanity, such good common sense to the position that tends to sometimes be austere and formal," Ms. Hurtig said. "Here we have instead the world champion hugger and the world champion lover of people."

Ms. Hole was a member of the Order of Canada and the second woman to be lieutenant-governor in Alberta. She was appointed in December, 1999, by Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and was sworn in the following February.

She created a stir at that time when she said publicly that she planned to have a talk with Mr. Klein before giving royal assent to his government's bill to expand the role of private providers in public health care.

At the time, debate was raging in the province over the legislation.

"Mr. Klein came to me after I was installed and said, 'Your honour, anything I can do for you, just let me know.'

"I'm going to," she told an audience.

It was the first time in decades that a lieutenant-governor had stepped into the political arena in Alberta. A day later she avoided a constitutional crisis when she promised to, and later did, sign the bill into law.

Before her appointment, Ms. Hole travelled extensively in Western Canada and the United States on speaking engagements. She was particularly involved with education, women's issues, business and the arts, and served on the boards of several community organizations.

Ms. Hole had served as chancellor of the University of Alberta in Edmonton and had been a school trustee and a member of the Athabasca University governing council.

As she was sworn into as lieutenant-governor, Ms. Hole said her mission was to travel the province to plant the seeds of education.

"Learning is the key to personal growth and happiness. That's why I support education and literacy at every level," she said.

When Mr. Klein welcomed her to the legislature, he joked that she would likely add one more duty to her office: "To make sure our groundskeepers maintain all of our magnificent shrubs and flowers to the highest standard."

At a press conference Friday, Mr. Klein said Ms. Hole was a woman of remarkable spirit, energy and intelligence who was truly loved by all Albertans. Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, meanwhile, said Ms. Hole was a rare and remarkable woman.

"As Alberta's 15th lieutenant-governor and only the second Albertan woman to receive this appointment, Mrs. Hole was beloved for her personal warmth and compassion," Mr. Harper said. "Not only will she be remembered for her work in the community, Mrs. Hole will be remembered as a successful businesswoman, an accomplished author, a passionate advocate for libraries and literacy and a dedicated supporter of the arts. For Albertans, her legacy and her spirit made her a household name," Mr. Harper said.

"Lois Hole's life was profoundly dedicated to her community, province and nation. Throughout her life she demonstrated tireless support for education and the public health system," the Prime Minister said.

Among her many awards, Ms. Hole received an honorary law degree from Athabasca University in 1995.

Born and raised in the small town of Buchanan, Sask., Ms. Hole moved to Edmonton in her early teens.

She and her husband started out growing vegetables for sale, but the operation evolved into a greenhouse business, which stands on the site of the original farm in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton.

The couple had two sons, Bill and Jim, and three grandchildren.

With a report from Globe and Mail Update