Former Alberta premier Don Getty mourned at state funeral

A state funeral was held in Edmonton Saturday morning for former Alberta Premier Don Getty, who died last week at the age of 82.
Margaret Getty, wife of former Alberta premier Don Getty, receives a box with the Alberta provincial flag in it during the procession for Getty's state funeral on Saturday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Derek Getty was just a boy when a midway game caught his eye as he walked through Klondike Days with his father, former premier Don Getty. 

It was a throwing game — get a football through a hoop. His father, a former Edmonton Eskimos quarterback, stepped up behind the ledge to give it a try.

"He started throwing footballs through the tire, and gave me a bear, and my brothers bears, and as kids were walking by, he'd give them bears too," Derek Getty said.

"And at 45 in a row, the guy looked at him and said, 'all right sir, move along.'"

Standing above the casket, draped in an Alberta flag, Derek and his brother Darin Getty fought back tears at his father's funeral on Saturday as they remembered him as more than a successful politician and athlete.

The former premier was a family man, they said. He expected his sons to be tough, but fair, to do their best in everything they did, to finish what they started, and to have no regrets.

"He used to have a saying, 'you just have to be better, do better,'" Darin Getty said. "I want everybody here to know today that in the last few years of my father's life, when he wasn't well, he handled every day with dignity and honour. He never complained, ever. Right until the bitter end.

"He was a great example for us all."

Around 400 people packed inside All Saints' Anglican Cathedral in downtown Edmonton for Getty's state funeral. Getty, who died last week at the age of 82, was premier of Alberta from 1985 to 1992.

'He handled every day with dignity and honour. He never complained, ever. Right until the bitter end.- Darin Getty

Many notable current and former politicians attended the service on Saturday morning. Honorary pallbearers listed in the funeral's program included Getty's former deputy premier Jim Horsman, former lieutenant governor and Edmonton Eskimo Norman Kwong, longtime University of Alberta hockey coach Clare Drake, and former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Russell, who was elected alongside Getty in 1967.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Bob Wanner presented Getty's widow Margaret with an Alberta flag that flew at half mast over the legislature in the former premier's honour. 

Getty took on the role of premier just as energy prices slumped in the late 1980s. By the time he left office, the province's debt had swelled to almost $20 billion, which prompted criticism from his successor, Ralph Klein, who took office in late 1992.

After the service, mourners clad in black streamed from the cathedral under the bright early afternoon sun. 

Premier Rachel Notley attended and spoke at the funeral. After the service, she agreed that the current economic situation is similar to what Getty faced when he was in office.  

"The theme that we heard through all of this is that you just need to keep calm, consider your options thoughtfully, don't get pushed into anything and think about the people you're there to serve," Notley said.

"And that's what we heard everybody talk about as being some of the most important qualities in Don Getty's character and certainly I'll take some inspiration from that."

Notley said the Getty family reached out to her when her father, late NDP leader Grant Notley died in a plane crash in 1984. She said there existed a "good deal of respect and camaraderie" within the legislature during that era, and that both her father and Getty had a great deal of respect for each other, despite their political differences.

Former premier Ed Stelmch said Getty talked to him when the global economy tanked in 2009. 

"His advice was 'hold your own, don't make rash decisions, the province has always recovered.'" Stelmach recalled. "I certainly listened to that advice and he was right."

Stelmach said Alberta is in a better place because of his leadership and calmness. 

"He had this air around him," he said.  "He wasn't brash or harsh to anyone which is very rare to see in politics."

Former premier Dave Hancock echoed Notley and Stelmach's statements, saying Getty handled a difficult time with "grace and dignity."

"He was always someone who had strength even when you're dealing with really difficult issues, both inside the party and in the province," Hancock said. "He was a man of courage who would step into it, who had the optimism that he would get through things, and quietly got things done."

Hancock said people criticized Getty but he was still getting results. 

"[He was] a strong leader who wasn't recognized in his time, in that way, but will be recognized over time, I think, in that way."

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