Bill Rompkey, former MP and Senator, dead at 80

Bill Rompkey, a Liberal politician who served in the House of Commons and the Senate, has died. He was 80.
Liberal Bill Rompkey was appointed to the Senate to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in 1995 by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Bill Rompkey, a Liberal politician who served in the House of Commons and the Senate, has died. He was 80. 

Rompkey, who had been battling cancer, had a lengthy career in federal politics, sitting in the Commons from 1972 to 1995. He was appointed to the Senate that year, and served until his retirement in 2011. 

"It's a long run," Edward Roberts, a former provincial Liberal leader, told CBC News Wednesday. 

Roberts described his long-time friend as "principled, decent, honest. I never heard an unkind word from him." 

Rompkey served in the federal Liberal cabinet in the Pierre Trudeau government of the early 1980s, holding portfolios of national revenue, minister of state for small business and tourism, and minister of state for mines. 

He was minister of state for transport in the short-lived John Turner government in 1984. 

Roberts said Rompkey earned the respect of others through his work. 

"Bill had a wonderful sense of humour — an absolutely wonderful sense of humour," Roberts said. "He had an ability to work seriously, but he never took himself too seriously." 

George Furey, the Speaker of the Senate, described Rompkey as being guided by a passion for his home province and country. 

"Bill was a tireless champion for the people he represented," Furey said in a statement to CBC News.

"He was broadly respected in both Houses and across all party lines for his kindness, commitment and service." 

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced on Wednesday afternoon that it would lower flags at all government buildings to half-mast, in Rompkey's honour. 

Never defeated at the polls

Rompkey was first elected as the MP for Grand Falls-White Bay-Labrador in 1972. After a redistribution, he represented the riding of Labrador from 1988 to 1995. He was never defeated at the polls during his political career. 

Rompkey was born in Belleoram, on Newfoundland's south coast, but had a special affinity with Labrador for much of his life. 

Before entering politics, he worked in Labrador for seven years as a teacher and principal. 

"When we arrived in North West River we discovered that we were Newfoundlanders and that the people we had come to live among were Labradorians," Rompkey said in 2000, when he received an honorary degree from Memorial University. 

"The Labrador identity is still strong: Labradorians have their own history, their own songs and stories." 

As an MP and Senator, he spoke often on Labrador issues, championing 5 Wing Goose Bay, economic opportunities and the local culture. 

In retirement, Rompkey found himself in some hot water, as one of a number of Senators found to have received payments for ineligible expenses.

Last December, the Senate's internal economy committee abandoned plans to recoup outstanding expenses from Rompkey and the other Senators, concluding that it wasn't worth the cost.