Manmeet Bhullar's colleagues, friends and family in Calgary are remembering him fondly for the sincerity he brought to public service throughout his relatively short yet accomplished life.
Bhullar, 35, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Greenway, was killed Monday by an out-of-control semi-trailer on the highway between Edmonton and Calgary after he pulled over to help a motorist who had lost control on the snowy road.
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"It's devastating for everyone who knew Manmeet and knew what he did and his sense of spirituality and public service and what a fine person he was," said former premier Jim Prentice.
"You really could not go anywhere in Alberta without being struck by the sense of admiration and affection and love that people in this province had for Manmeet as a political leader. This was a man who was in politics for all of the right reasons."
Died helping others
Kyle Fawcett, the former PC MLA for Calgary-Klein, had known Bhullar since high school when they both played on the Pearson Patriots football team.
"We ended up going to the city championship game and, like everybody on that team, formed a really close bond," Fawcett recalled.
"And our lives crossed paths subsequent to that because of our passions for public service and politics. He was more like a brother than a friend to me."
Fawcett said he didn't want to believe it when he heard the news that Bhullar had been killed.
"At least I know that his last act was doing something that he very clearly understood was his purpose in this world, and that's helping other people," Fawcett said.
Political start remembered
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed a similar sentiment about Bhullar's final moments, saying pulling over to help a stranger is "exactly" fitting with his character.
"It's a horrible thing to say, but it's almost appropriate in that, if he was going to go, that he went helping somebody," Nenshi said.
'With his energy, youth and passion, I quite frankly suspected to see Manmeet in public life for decades to come. And I believe all Albertans are poorer for the fact we will not.' - Alberta Premier Rachel Notley
Bhullar's family issued a written statement following his death saying he "left us while he was doing what he loved more than anything — helping someone else."
The mayor said Bhullar got involved in politics as a child for reasons that were personally meaningful for a young Sikh growing up in a city where people were still "a little nervous" about "those people who wear turbans and beards."
"When he was very young, the Sikh community wanted to build their first temple," Nenshi said.
"And a lawyer in town, really, really took on the battle of helping the Sikh community get their temple and that lawyer was Jim Prentice. And Manmeet was just a little kid then, and he saw the power in being able to move community in policy."
A loss for Alberta politics
Prentice recalled first meeting Bhullar when working with his father on that temple.
"There was this little 10-year-old boy … who was tagging along beside us through the process, and that was Manmeet," he said.
"And so, like others, I watched him grow into the incredible person that he became, who was really known throughout the province for his sense of public service and his commitment to other people."
Despite his youth, Bhullar's name was tossed around as a potential candidate to take over the leadership of the PC party after Prentice resigned following the party's election defeat in May.
Prentice wouldn't have been surprised by that.
"I always thought that he would go on to other political leadership roles," the former premier said. "But he accomplished so very much in his 35 years, it's incredible."
Premier 'deeply saddened'
Premier Rachel Notley told reporters by teleconference from Ottawa Tuesday that she was "deeply saddened" by the news of Bhullar's death.
She recognized Bhullar, in particular, for his work as minister of Human Services, when he led a shift toward greater transparency in reporting publicly on the deaths of children in provincial care.
"Whether in government or in opposition, Manmeet was always successful and very authentic, very committed and very capable," she said.
"With his energy, youth and passion, I quite frankly suspected to see Manmeet in public life for decades to come. And I believe all Albertans are poorer for the fact we will not."