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Former Canadian senator Joyce Fairbairn dead at 82

Former Canadian Liberal senator and journalist Joyce Fairbairn has died at age 82, the federal government confirmed Tuesday.

Fairbairn was the first woman to serve as leader of the government in the Senate

Senators Joyce Fairbairn and James Kelleher, left, at a news conference in Ottawa in November 2001. (Canadian Press)

Former Canadian Liberal senator and journalist Joyce Fairbairn has died at age 82, the federal government confirmed Tuesday.  

The cause of death was not immediately known, though Fairbairn resigned from her seat in 2013 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The Lethbridge, Alta., native was appointed to the Senate in 1984.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee said Fairbairn was a "pillar" of the Paralympic movement in Canada for many years. She was inducted into the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2011 in recognition of her significant role in growing paralympic sport in Canada. 

"She was always a huge fan of all of Canada's Paralympians, and we so appreciated all of her support. She will be greatly missed," Marc-André Fabien, president, Canadian Paralympic Committee wrote in a statement Tuesday. 

Fairbairn broke ground as one of the first women journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and then became the first woman leader of the government in the Senate.

In 1990, Fairbairn was named Ksiskaníípi'ksaakii, or Chief Morning Bird Woman, when she was inaugurated into the Kainai Chieftainship. She was also an honorary colonel with the 18th Air Defence Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery from 1997 through 2010.

A school in Lethbridge, Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School, is named after her. 

Justin Trudeau chats with Senator Joyce Fairbairn at a reception on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in June 2002. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

All government of Canada buildings and establishments in Lethbridge will have flags at half-mast from now until sunset on the day of the funeral or memorial service, according to a notice of half masting from the federal government. 

Rajko Dodic, acting mayor of the City of Lethbridge, said flags will also be lowered at City Hall today.

"In my past council experience, I had the pleasure of attending many occasions with senator Fairbairn, and I always admired her dedication to public service," Dodic said in a statement on Wednesday.

"She was a builder and a trailblazer, not just here in Lethbridge but across the nation."

Dodic said Fairbairn had a boundless energy that never stopped.

"She was always advocating for her country, her province but even more so on behalf of Lethbridge citizens," he added.

"Her numerous contributions will be felt forever in our community. We will miss her."

NDP MLA Shannon Phillips, who represents Lethbridge West, said Fairbairn broke ground for women journalists and politicians with her five decades of public service.

"She was always very grounded in Lethbridge and championed our city and region all the time," Phillips said.

"In Lethbridge, wearing her trademark red jacket, Joyce was everywhere. Most of us met her in the community because she put the people of Lethbridge first. I extend my deepest sympathies to senator Fairbairn's family and friends."

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