EDMONTON- Condolences continue to pour in for Alberta’s 12th premier.
Ralph Klein was surrounded by family when he died Friday, at the age of 70, following a long battle with dementia and emphysema.
Those who worked closely with Klein are remembering him as the man he was, more so than the politician he was.
Bill Smith was Edmonton’s mayor during much of Klein’s time as premier, and says he was one of the best premiers Alberta has ever had, “because if you wanted to pick up the phone and get a hold of Ralph, he’d get right back to you as soon as he could,” Smith said.
“Honestly, we’ve lost a true Albertan and certainly a true Canadian,” he added.
One of Klein’s media relations managers, Jerry Bellikka, sat down with Global News to look back on his year and half with the former premier.
“There were a lot of big moments, a lot of fun moments and a lot of tough moments.”
Bellikka says he related best with Klein when the cameras were put away, they were out of the political spotlight, and Klein could be himself.
“Ralph was a natural in front of the cameras, he was a pro,” Bellikka said Saturday. “But when you took all that away and got behind closed doors, or in the private moments, he was incredibly human and he really, really had a deep passion for people.”
But, Bellikka’s time with Klein wasn’t without some controversy. The former premier was a somewhat outspoken man, and Bellikka recalls dealing with some of Klein’s more colourful moments.
“You didn’t handle Ralph, Ralph handled you. It was a little like having a tiger by the tail,” Bellikka said with a smile. “If it was a slow day and the news wasn’t going the way he wanted to, he’d throw out a bombshell at a news conference without telling you, and then afterwards he’d look at you and say ‘I did that on purpose.'”
And there were tough times, too. Bellikka recalls the day he and Klein learned four Mounties had been killed in Mayerthorpe.
“We wept,” Bellikka said, holding back tears. “And then we had to go talk to the media, and it was probably one of the toughest days he had in office. It was a difficult, difficult time.”
Bellikka says that was the day he saw just how human Klein was.
“He was fiercely loyal, incredibly compassionate toward people, and genuinely human.”
And what, did Bellikka say, would Klein most want to be remembered as?
“I think he just would be happy that people remember him as just Ralph, because that’s when he was happiest, when people would just walk up to him and say ‘Hey Ralph, good to see ya.’ I think that’s what he would enjoy.”