Public celebration of Klein's life to be held Friday in Calgary

CALGARY – A longtime friend of Alberta premier Ralph Klein says the family wanted his journey to end where it all started.

Rod Love said the family said no to a state funeral for Klein who died peacefully in his sleep. Love said Klein walked into Calgary city hall as a reporter when he was 26 and later became mayor so that’s where his wife Colleen wanted his final goodbye to be held.

A celebration of Klein’s life is expected to be held Friday with one of the speakers being former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also expected to attend.

Love said Klein never changed from the man he met in 1980 to the individual he was sitting with yesterday.

He said Klein will be remembered for many things but most of all for his larger than life personality and sense of humour.

On the streets of Calgary, there were fond memories shared by many who simply knew Klein by his first name.

“It was always Ralph. He was just a down to Earth people person and that’s why I think people didn’t call him premier,” said Marilyn Benko. “He’ll be remembered for all the good he’s done for Alberta, his friendliness and his compassion for the people and all the wonderful things he’s done for everyone.”

Klein began his public life in Calgary as a TV reporter.

He was a long shot when he ran for mayor in 1980, but his grassroots message of change resonated. He won and he never looked back.

Under his watch, the city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988.

He made the jump to provincial politics and, as leader of the Progressive Conservatives for four successive majority governments, he proved that politicians who did what they promised and stayed the course could surmount the most divisive of policies.

During his time as premier, Klein introduced a number of austerity measures and privatization initiatives that, coupled with multi-billion-dollar, oil-fuelled budget surpluses, eradicated Alberta’s accumulated $23-billion debt.

His cut-and-slash, damn-the-torpedoes philosophy — dubbed “The Klein Revolution” — changed the political tenor in Canada over deficit budgeting.

He stepped down in 2006, and fell into ill health shortly there after.

He is being remembered as a man who was a home in both the halls of power and the corner dive bar.

Prime Minister Harper called him “Citizen Ralph … a man who said what he believed and did what he said.”

Alberta Premier Alison Redford called Klein a visionary who instinctively understood what he was doing and why.

“It was always about the personal story, about understanding exactly how the work government was doing impacted people and always being very thoughtful about that,” she said.

Condolence books are to be set up in government buildings across Alberta.

On the streets of his home town, Nancy Cormier said she will remember Klein for his convictions.

“I voted for him,” she said. “I think he will be remembered for speaking frankly about what he thought of Alberta and for sticking by the people. I think he will be missed a lot.

“It’s always Ralph. When you hear the name Ralph your mind goes to him.”