Gene Zwozdesky, former Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, has died
'He was Mr. Congeniality, he could always see the other person’s side of a discussion'
Former Alberta MLA and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Gene Zwozdesky has died.
He was 70.
"He was a good man who served with grace and dignity," said Ric McIver, who served in the Legislature with Zwozdesky and is currently an MLA for the riding of Calgary-Hays.
"Gene was really pleasant to work with, easy to get along with. If there was ever a guy who was conversant with a whole bunch of people from a whole bunch of different cultures, backgrounds, languages, religions, Gene was one of the best."
First elected in 1993 under the Liberal party banner, Zwozdesky joined the Progressive Conservatives during his second term.
He was elected in the riding of Edmonton-Mill Creek six times, eventually losing his seat in the 2015 election.
Known for his easy smile and calm demeanour, Zwozdesky had the same personality outside politics, said McIver.
From his service to our province, the Ukrainian community & Alberta music, Speaker Gene Zwozdesky accomplished so much, helped so many and has been taken too soon. <br>I will never forget his enthusiastic guidance in our first days of gov’t. <br>My deepest condolences to his family. <a href="https://t.co/FW0hEdx6ng">pic.twitter.com/FW0hEdx6ng</a>—@RachelNotley
"That wasn't an act, that was the real deal, he was that guy," he said.
"I don't know anybody who disliked him. He served for a long time, he served in a large number of ministries so there was probably people who might have disagreed with him along the way, that's fair enough, but I'd be surprised if anybody ever disliked him.
"He was Mr. Congeniality, he could always see the other person's side of a discussion. He's going to be missed by a lot of Albertans."
'Went above and beyond'
Current Speaker Robert E. Wanner offered condolences to Zwozdesky's family on behalf of Alberta MLAs.
"It was with great sadness that I learned of Mr. Zwozdesky's passing. Anyone who ever met him knows that Gene Zwozdesky was a force of energy who lived every moment to its fullest. He cared deeply about his family, his community and his province. With a distinguished public service career spanning more than 20 years, his never-ending zest for life makes his passing seem almost surreal," said Wanner.
"I was so appreciative of his advice and assistance during the transition into my role as Speaker."
Derek Fildebrandt, who now leads the Freedom Conservative Party, said even after Zwozdesky lost his own seat in the 2015 election, he went above and beyond to make sure incoming MLAs — from all parties — were shown how things worked.
"He didn't expect to lose his seat … and that was obviously difficult, but he composed himself with extreme grace and dignity and went far above and beyond his duties in making sure the rookies … got to learn the ropes," said Fildebrandt, who was part of that rookie class of MLAs.
I didn't have the privilege of directly serving with Gene Zwozdesky, but he was a legend of the Alberta Legislature. The outpouring of response today shows Gene's overwhelmingly positive impact in our province. Condolences to his family & friends for their loss. RIP Mr. Speaker. <a href="https://t.co/8wvzsk8XiN">https://t.co/8wvzsk8XiN</a>—@jkenney
"The usual thing to do would be for him to make sure the paperwork is in order and hit the door and enjoy retirement but he didn't do that. He reached out to us and went so far as to hold an unofficial, almost model-Parliament, as if we were students, session of the Legislature to learn how the thing works.
"Even teaching us how to heckle politely and come with a good comeback. He did it all weeks after losing an election which would have been a very difficult time."
Along with serving as Speaker from 2012 to 2015, Zwozdesky headed a number of ministries, including Alberta health and wellness, Aboriginal relations, education and community development.
Prior to getting involved in politics, Zwozdesky was a teacher and musician, performing with the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers based in Edmonton before becoming the group's music director.
As the former Speaker, Zwozdesky's portrait was unveiled in the Legislature in 2016.
Many tributes to Zwozdesky were posted to social media.
Devastated by the news that Gene Zwozdesky has passed. Loved this man. <a href="https://t.co/pznQ17Nodi">pic.twitter.com/pznQ17Nodi</a>—@jackieraecfcw
Very sad to hear the news of Gene Zwozdesky passing. AB lost a person of great integrity & passion this morning. He was a true statesman and fulfilled his duties with grace & professionalism. I learned a great deal from him. Rest In Peace. Thoughts and prayers w/his family <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a>—@DeronBilous
Very saddened to hear of the passing of Gene Zwozdesky. I had the privilege of working with him at the Legislature and he was first elected in 1993, and reconnected when he helped 70+ rookie MLAs learn the ropes in 2015. A truly honourable man. He will be missed <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a>—@GregClark4AB
I remember how he sometimes struggled to champion decency and civility in the legislature. I remember when I was covering the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a> during the Bill 44 debate, and how he agonized between loyalty to the party line and pushing for greater acceptance of LGBQT rights.—@Paulatics
So very saddened to hear of my friend, MLA & Speaker Gene Zwozdesky who passed away today. He was a joy to be with & always celebrated the very best in all of us. Arts & Culture, music, dance & so much more. Luv you Gene...💔 <a href="https://t.co/npEVyeGu7H">pic.twitter.com/npEVyeGu7H</a>—@HeatherKlimchuk
Terribly sad to learn of Gene Zwozdesky’s passing. Gene was a fantastic MLA, Government Minister, and Speaker (also proud Ukrainian). <br><br>Gene left a positive mark on Alberta that won’t be forgotten.<br><br>My deepest condolences to Mr. Zwozdesky’s family. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Ableg</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ABPoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ABPoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/T6tXANddJQ">pic.twitter.com/T6tXANddJQ</a>—@robertparks247
Zwozdesky died the same weekend as another Alberta politician, former MP and former Sundre Mayor Myron Thompson.
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With a file from Sarah Rieger