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Mayor Jean Doré wipes away tears during a Dec. 7, 1989, news conference after the slaying of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.Shaney Komulainen/The Canadian Press

He was an enthusiastic singer, a graceful dancer and a great talker, passionately expounding upon his vision for his beloved Montreal to the point that it was often difficult to get a word in edgewise. Along the way, Jean Doré, the city's voluble 39th mayor, literally threw open the bronze front doors of City Hall after his landslide victory in 1986 and ushered in an era of openness, change and inclusiveness.

His predecessor, the diminutive and autocratic Jean Drapeau, had ordered the doors locked at some point, effectively barring the public from visiting and asking questions. After being in power for well over a quarter-century, Mr. Drapeau was ill-prepared for 15 candidates from the upstart Montreal Citizens' Movement (MCM), the progressive party that Mr. Doré helped found in 1974, to enter City Hall as opposition in 1982.

"We didn't even have an office," recalled Marvin Rotrand, who has served as a Montreal councillor ever since. "We were confronted with a municipal government that had been run like a small shoe store, with a dearth of sizes and different styles."

Mr. Doré, who died on June 15 from pancreatic cancer, was the MCM's mayoral candidate in the 1982 election, coming a close second to Mr. Drapeau. Two years later – with a full, coiffed head of hair, an ever-present smile and a fierce sense of justice honed while leading a federation of consumer-protection groups that helped working-class families – Mr. Doré handily won a by-election and came roaring into the chamber.

"Welcome to my house," Mr. Drapeau said, by way of greeting.

"Surely you mean the citizens' house," Mr. Doré replied.

A lawyer by training, he wasted no time demanding an office and better working conditions for his team, which Mr. Drapeau, accustomed to having things his own way, refused. But Mr. Doré would not back down; instead, in concert with other municipal opposition leaders, he managed to get the National Assembly to pass a law requiring municipalities with at least 100,000 residents to devote 10 per cent of their annual operating budgets for research and clerical expenses for all political parties with seats, not just the majority ones.

It was the right thing to do and it set the tone for the eventful two terms Mr. Doré would serve as mayor. At once a showman and canny man of the people, "Montreal for all Montrealers" might as well have been his slogan and cri de coeur when he and the MCM swept to victory in the fall of 1986, taking 55 of 58 seats. He won the mayoralty with more than 65 per cent of the vote.

"Overnight, Jean created a weekly citizens' question period," recalled Mr. Rotrand. "There were new consulting mechanisms on council, and he introduced boroughs to deal with the specific interests and needs of each district. Basically, we moved at lightning speed – from 1956 to 1986."

Michel Prescott, who was also first elected in 1982, was even more succinct.

"Jean oversaw a quiet revolution, urban style," he said, likening Mr. Doré's initiatives to the period in Quebec history that saw intense social and political change and the secularization of the state.

Mr. Prescott noted that it is ironic that the first mayoral portrait the public sees in City Hall's hallway of honour is that of Mr. Drapeau, who quietly retired in the summer of 1986, leaving the way open for Mr. Doré to succeed him.

"It was Jean who brought people in and made sure their voices were heard," Mr. Prescott continued. "Wouldn't it be a wonderful tribute to finally switch the portraits around, so that Jean greets them at the door?"

Jean Doré was born in Montreal on Dec. 12, 1944, the only son of Jean Félix Doré, an insurance broker, and Thérèse Lauzé. Growing up in rough-and-tumble southwest Montreal, he and his sister, Nicole, were curious, bright and learned early to treat everyone equally, no matter what their background or size of their wallet.

Young Jean excelled at school and ended up studying law at the University of Montreal, where he was president of the student union from 1967 to 1968. He worked on his English and his political beliefs while completing his master's degree in political science at McGill University.

He enhanced his résumé with stints as host of a consumer-affairs program on Radio-Québec and as a lawyer with a provincial labour organization, the Confederation of National Trade Unions. And even though he had separatist leanings (he once worked as a press attaché for René Lévesque before the Parti Québécois leader became premier), he never let it affect the way he talked to people or ran the city.

In 1974, while working with the federation of consumer-protection groups, Mr. Doré became treasurer of the new Montreal Citizens' Movement, a gathering of people who had had enough of a city that was run behind closed doors. Twelve years later, the MCM was fully in charge.

As mayor, he oversaw the renewal of the historic Old Port, inaugurated the Pointe-à-Callière archeological museum, introduced recycling and ordered the protection of green spaces such as Mount Royal in the heart of the city. Public squares were built, as well as public housing.

His initiatives included a program to promote equal access to municipal jobs for visible minorities, the seeds of Montreal's enviable system of bicycle paths and the designation of February as Black History Month in the city.

His administration also opened Accès Montréal offices to promote city offerings and to provide discounts for residents on everything from admission to museums to tennis court fees.

Mr. Doré also brought into his circle people who, in earlier years past, would have been left as spectators on the sidelines simply by dint of their sex or background.

Under him, Léa Cousineau became the first woman to chair city council's executive committee (the municipal equivalent of a cabinet), and Joseph Biello, an immigrant from Italy and budding politician, was given responsibility for a new portfolio called intercultural relations.

"He changed my life, along with a lot of others. When people criticized his changes or wondered what the point was, he was adamant: 'My Montreal is open,' he declared," Mr. Biello recalled. "I was proof of that. There I was, sitting at the table."

Mr. Doré is remembered for wiping away tears during a news conference after the Dec. 6, 1989, shooting deaths of 14 women at École Polytechnique, including one who babysat his daughters, and for exuberantly welcoming Nelson Mandela to the city in 1990 after his release from a South African prison.

In 1990, he was returned as mayor with nearly 60 per cent of the vote, but by the time of the 1994 election, his administration had become tired and lumbering and a recession had left the city's main streets looking abandoned, marked by empty stores and For Sale signs.

In his bid for a third term, he brashly warned Montrealers that they should vote for him and the majority of his MCM team rather than risk a hamstrung minority council that would force the province to place the city under trusteeship. But voters didn't buy his pitch.

Four years later, he tried for a comeback with a new party, Équipe Montréal (Team Montreal), but ended up placing fourth. He moved into private life, working in the banking sector as senior director of business development for Caisse Desjardins.

Until recently, Mr. Doré's legacy was largely overlooked or taken for granted, part of life as Montrealers know it today. But in the wake of a series of bribery scandals that resulted in the resignation of one mayor, the arrest of another and a provincial inquiry into the whole mess, his accomplishments began to stand out anew.

Then, tragedy struck. Last summer, he was in shape and playing lots of tennis when he noticed his urine was orange. Tests soon revealed he had pancreatic cancer. At first, he was angry. Then, he settled into a gritty acceptance, deciding to give all of his energy in the fight of his life – for his life.

Last December, he was honoured at an event celebrating both his 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the MCM. Bald from chemotherapy, and frail, he needed lots of cushions to sit comfortably. Still, he stood at the lectern with a broad smile and said: "My life has been a success because of you."

That moment caused former city councillor Helen Fotopulos, who first met Mr. Doré when he asked her to become his executive assistant in the late-1980s, to recall an incident from 1993. As mayor, he had taken her to the Gala des Étoiles, an annual showcase for dancers from around the world. Suddenly, there he was with Anik Bissonnette, a principal dancer with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, performing in front of an appreciative audience, dipping, swirling and always, always supporting his partner.

"He was a man for every occasion," Ms. Fotopulos said. "He could really rock and roll – or waltz, if the occasion called for it."

Mr. Doré leaves his spouse, Christiane Sauvé; daughters, Magali and Amélie; sister, Nicole; grandchildren, Luca and Anaïs; niece, Natacha; and stepmother, Thérèse Marin.

He will lie in state at Montreal City Hall on Saturday, when his family will receive friends and dignitaries, and on Sunday, when the doors will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A civic funeral will be held Monday at City Hall.

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