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Governor-General David Johnston bids Parliament ‘adieu’ with wife Sharon at his side

Governor-General David Johnston, his wife, Sharon, and their dog Rosie depart from a ceremonial tree planting, commemorating the end of his seven years of service, in Ottawa on Thursday.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As he made his way from Parliament Hill for the last time as Governor-General, David Johnston stopped to pay homage to the person who has mattered most throughout the past seven years: his wife, Sharon.

"She's marvelous," said Mr. Johnston, 76 and a grandfather of 14. "She doesn't look for credit. She just does a great job. I was her first date in high school at age 13, and she's been terrific all the way through."

When asked what she did to help, Mr. Johnston said his wife grounds him. "And the sense of humour," he smiled.

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Ms. Johnston herself said she won't particularly miss her position as one-half of "their Excellencies." But she said she's proud of the work she's done to raise awareness for mental health, particularly in the military. The navy made her an honorary captain for her dedication to the issue.

"The fact I could do something in mental health, which has mattered to me since I was six years of age – and brought every suffering soul home to my mother," she said.

The Johnstons, who are leaving Rideau Hall for a farm in Ontario's Lanark County, were honoured Thursday in Centre Block's aptly named Hall of Honour, where MPs and senators from all political stripes gathered to bid the well-liked couple farewell. "I don't like the word farewell," Mr. Johnston told the crowd. "I think adieu is better, because we'll be together again."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, attended the ceremony, as did House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan and Senate Speaker George Furey.

Mr. Johnston leaves his post as the Queen's representative in Canada as the third-longest-serving governor-general in history – and at more than 50 missions abroad, the most travelled. He became Governor-General on Oct. 1, 2010, appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. His five-year appointment was later extended to seven years. Former astronaut Julie Payette will be installed as the 29th governor-general of Canada on Monday.

Mr. Trudeau thanked Mr. Johnston, a family friend who he has known since he was a child, for his contributions to Canada, calling him "a man of strength, intelligence and compassion."

"It has been a true honour since the beginning of my mandate to come to know the Governor-General, not only as a friendly neighbour, quite literally, but as a man of integrity who embodies the principles for which our country stands," Mr. Trudeau said.

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Mr. Trudeau also paid tribute to the role played by Ms. Johnston, as well as his wife, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau.

"I always need to reflect on the fact that if I am able to keep my feet squarely planted on the ground, it is because I have a partner at my side who keeps me that way," Mr. Trudeau said.

"I know that through these seven years, Sharon has been an extraordinary source of strength for the Governor-General. But also, and make no mistake on this, an incredible servant to Canadians herself."

For his part, Mr. Johnston told parliamentarians that the hard work of democracy carries on – through them.

"Parliament is where we resolve issues through words, rather than force, and that is why your success as parliamentarians is so critical to the smarter, more caring Canada and the fairer, more just world of which we dream," he said. He said that he learned during his international visits that what bonds parliamentarians is greater than what divides them.

"I saw close up that despite differences of political persuasion or opinion that are natural and healthy in a democracy, all of you share the desire for a better Canada."

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