Former Speaker and longtime Liberal MLA Frank Branch has died

Former New Brunswick Speaker and longtime Liberal MLA Frank Branch has died.

Branch, 74, served 28 years in the legislature, representing the north shore

Frank Branch, 74, is survived by his wife of 48 years, Karen (Targett), his three children and three grandchildren.

A former Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly and longtime Liberal MLA for the north shore has died.

Frank Branch of Big River died at Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst surrounded by family after a battle with cancer, according to his obituary.

The father of three and grandfather of three was 74.

"He was a very good person and a good guy and I'll miss him," said Moncton-area lawyer and former fellow politician Michael Murphy, who described Branch as a political mentor.

Branch, a former teacher at the Collège de Bathurst and the New Brunswick Community College, was first elected to the legislative assembly in 1970 as a representative for the constituency of Gloucester County and subsequently represented the then-new riding of Nepisiguit-Chaleur.

He served as Speaker from 1987 to 1991.

Branch resigned from the legislature in 1995, after 25 years of service, became general manager of the North Shore Forest Products Marketing Board, and was re-elected in 2003.

'Unwavering' desire to help community

His "desire to enhance his community was unwavering," his obituary said. 

"Frank will be fondly remembered for his compassion for those in need, his grandfather Branch instilled that humble kindness for those less fortunate."

His political career started to come undone in 2005, when the wood marketing board became the centre of an investigation into alleged misconduct.

In 2012, Branch was sentenced to one year of house arrest and two years of probation after changing his plea to guilty of fraud over $5,000. He was also ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution to the marketing board.

Frank Branch, first elected in 1970, was the longest-sitting politician in the legislature during his final session in the assembly in 2006. (Government of New Brunswick)

"I don't think that any of those matters are going to tarnish his legacy as a constituent politician, a caring person, and a great family man," said Murphy, noting Branch's granddaughter works for him as a legal assistant.

"Did he have his own foibles and his own flaws? Yeah, he did, and I guess we all do to some extent, but I think he'll be measured in time by his commitment to his family and to his friends and his loyalty to those in need. That's how I'll remember him."

Murphy, who was elected to the legislature in 2003 and went on to serve as the minister of health and minister of justice before resigning in 2010, credits some of his later successes to Branch.

He was "a great communicator" and taught Murphy the importance of "speaking a language that everybody could understand."

"He took me aside and told me in a not-so-gentle way what would happen if I continued to" talk like a trial lawyer, using legal terms and long phrases, said Murphy.

'I owe him quite a bit'

Another time, when Murphy was being "pretty cocky"and taking some shots" at a member on the other side of the house who had taken some shots at him, Branch again took him aside and explained the other member was admired and Murphy was only hurting himself.

"So I owe him quite a bit," Murphy said.

In 2006, while Branch was suspended from the wood marketing board and under investigation, he resigned from the Liberal caucus and served briefly as an independent.

During that time, then-Progressive Conservative premier Bernard Lord took Branch with him to Montreal for a meeting of the Council of the Federation as protection against the defeat of his minority government.

The Opposition Liberals had refused pairing agreements that would have allowed members of the one-seat minority PC government to leave the legislature during votes.

Accused of 5 offences

When Branch was fired from the marketing board that year, he alleged he had been framed and filed a half-million-dollar wrongful dismissal lawsuit. He did not run in the 2006 provincial election.

Branch was charged with five offences in 2009, including the fraud charge, two counts of extortion against two employees of the marketing board, breach of trust against the province, and another fraud over $5,000 charge against the province.

In 2012, following his guilty plea, the four other charges against him were stayed.

Branch graduated from the former LeBlanc High School, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Moncton.

Funeral Friday

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Karen (Targett), his children Richard Branch (Jane Burns), Ashley Branch, Meghan Poole (Mike), and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be held in Bathurst on Thursday at Elhatton's Funeral Home from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A funeral mass will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bathurst.