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Liberal Senator Joyce Fairbairn set to retire following dementia diagnosis

Sen. Fairbairn and Pierre Trudeau chatting in the foyer of the House of Commons

Jean-Marc Carisse/Handout

A Liberal senator who was diagnosed with dementia last February will officially retire in January of next year.

Joyce Fairbairn, 73, who was a parliamentary reporter in the 1960s before going to work as a legislative assistant, and eventually the communications co-ordinator for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, has given her resignation to Governor-General David Johnston. It is effective as of Jan. 18.

Ms. Fairbairn has been on leave from the Senate since August for health reasons.

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Although she was told in February that she had Alzheimer's disease, she continued to attend sessions of the Senate and voted on important issues.

People who worked with her said she had a grasp of the issues throughout the spring session.

Ms. Fairbairn has continued to attend community events in her hometown of Lethbridge, Alta., and some of her Liberal colleagues say they are hoping that she will be able to return to Ottawa one last time to say goodbye.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, said in a statement on Friday afternoon that Ms. Fairbairn served her country, and especially her province of Alberta, with dignity, pride and devotion in the more than 40 years of her public life.

"She broke ground throughout her distinguished career as one of the first women journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, senior adviser to prime minister Trudeau, and then as the first woman Leader of the Government in the Senate," Mr. Rae said.

"She worked tirelessly to help Canadians, especially those facing challenges, particularly through her work on literacy and the Paralympics.

"And, as she now faces health challenges of her own, she continues to inspire all of us."

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Conservative Senator David Tkachuk said he wishes Ms. Fairbairn the very best. "I feel really sorry for her, it's a horrible disease."

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