SASKATOON-Their couple photos on Facebook are equal parts normal and jaw dropping.
Arm and arm at the Magic Kingdom, having fun with some big guns at a shooting range, mugging for the camera over a glass of wine — nary an eyebrow would be raised if the husband wasn’t a 69-year-old Canadian senator and the wife wasn’t a 23-year-old beauty from Ontario’s Cottage Country.
If they were celebrities for the usual reasons, they’d be ZimmerBerger or MayRod.
Whether they like it or not, Sen. Rod Zimmer and his wife Maygan Sensenberger have become Canada’s water-cooler couple since police allege Sensenberger lost her cool on a flight to Saskatoon last week and ended up in court.
They met on a blind date, according to Sensenberger’s grandmother, herself one year Zimmer’s junior.
Sensenberger was one of four siblings in a family from Collingwood, Ont. Her father owned a restaurant.
She was a ballet dancer turned aspiring actor and had been taking university classes in Ottawa, Rita Sensenberger said.
Zimmer was born in Saskatchewan, but called Winnipeg home.
He started his political career as an executive assistant to James Richardson, a cabinet minister under Pierre Trudeau, said Allen Mills a politics professor at the University of Winnipeg and Zimmer’s former neighbour.
Zimmer has a lengthy private-sector resume as well, including executive positions with the Manitoba Lotteries Foundation and CanWest Capital Corp.
His Senate profile boasts he was a champion swimmer, diver and water skier. He served on several boards including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. His personal interests include “ballet, piano, travel, public affairs, politics and all athletic activities.”
Mills remembered Zimmer as a down-to-earth man who lived modestly, with a nice little home in central Winnipeg. Mills said Zimmer convinced him to hire a young, aboriginal boy to mow his lawn to help the boy “get a leg up.”
Zimmer became one of the most important fundraisers for the Liberals in Manitoba and helped mentor a lot of young people within the party, Mills said.
“He was a very important fundraiser in Manitoba for the Liberal party and seemed to be sort of the man in charge as a fundraiser under Chretien.”
In 2005, then prime minister Paul Martin appointed him to the Senate. A Liberal who was in the room when Martin announced the appointment to a partisan crowd in Winnipeg was pleasantly surprised to see the genuine and apparently universal approval the announcement elicited.
“He was hugely admired for all his work in the community,” the Liberal said.
Mills said he noticed Zimmer was ill a few years ago, but he seemed to recover.
In a statement in the Senate in March 2010 to urge prostate cancer awareness, Zimmer revealed that seven years earlier, he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and given only a 20 per cent chance of surviving the next two years.
He offered his personal remedy for beating cancer.
When he was given the bad news, Zimmer said he reacted by saying: “Doctor, the seventh and final stage of death is acceptance. I’m there so flip me over, zap my backside and let’s go.
“A positive attitude generates energy and adrenaline and fights off disease and counters stress. Cancer exists in all of our systems and will attack the most vulnerable parts of your body over 10,000 times in your lifetime.
“So, as much as is possible, honourable senators, take stress out of your life.”
To any of his Senate colleagues fighting cancer, Zimmer offered his support.
“And if you weaken in the last few weeks of your treatment, I will lift you upon my shoulders and carry you the rest of the way because you are my comrades and that is my promise.”
Like many senators, he has been almost invisible to the public, Mills said. There’s never been a hint of controversy about him until now
Sensenberger’s grandmother said the couple had been dating for years prior to their marriage, but waited until Sensenberger was 21 before announcing they were together.
In December 2010, just two weeks before Christmas, Sensenberger created a wedding page on Facebook.
“So these are our official engagement photos,” she posted the following June. “May I just say, how cute are we :)”
They were married on Parliament Hill in August 2011. There are reports Sensenberger is Zimmer’s second wife, but Rita Sensenberger disputed that.
“Rod was never married. Maygan is his first wife. He has never been married before.”
While Rita Sensenberger talked openly about the couple’s relationship and their age difference, it’s less clear how Zimmer’s family felt.
There are online reports that it had cause a rift on his side. The Globe and Mail quoted Zimmer’s brother as saying the first time he met Sensenberger was Monday, when he helped arrange a hotel for her after being released from jail. It was the couple’s first anniversary.
Sensenberger was in court again Tuesday. The case was put over to Wednesday. She is facing charges of uttering threats and causing a disturbance. The most serious charge of endangering an aircraft was withdrawn.
While the couple’s relationship may have people buzzing around the country, Mills said the hoopla is probably overblown.
“It is unusual I suppose for a man who’s 69 to be married to a woman who’s 23, but it happens in Hollywood,” he said. “It happens all over the place … these days, my God, you know people are doing all sorts of strange things. So what? What’s the bother?”
Rita Sensenberger said she wishes people would just let the newlyweds be.
“She’s a very sweet, loving girl,” she said. “She’s my granddaugher. She goes to university, she’s an A student, she loves her husband very much, he loves her. What more is there to say?
“Why can’t they just leave them alone?”
— By Tim Cook and Chris Purdy in Edmonton and Joan Bryden in Ottawa