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Former Yukon premier Dennis Fentie honoured at memorial event

Former Yukon premier Dennis Fentie, who died in August, was remembered Friday at a memorial service in Whitehorse.

A celebration of life was held Friday at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse

Lorraine Nixon, the late Dennis Fentie's partner, spoke about her relationship with Fentie at a celebration of life Friday. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Political friends and foes, Yukon dignitaries and family members gathered Friday in Whitehorse to pay tribute to former premier Dennis Fentie, who died in August.

The celebration of life at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre Longhouse drew about 250 people. The public event was also streamed on the Yukon government's Facebook page and shown at the recreation centre in Watson Lake, where Fentie served as MLA for 15 years.

Lorraine Nixon, Fentie's partner, was one of several people who spoke at the event.

"He would build me up and show me things about myself that made me feel special and even beautiful," she said during her speech, which was emotional at times for her.

Nixon said they spent much of 15 years living apart during Fentie's political career, and the key to maintaining their relationship was committing to be there for one another through thick and thin.

"My advice to all the couples here today is: Love hard when there's love to be had because perfect guys don't exist, but there's always one guy that's perfect for you. Dennis was that perfect guy for me," she said.

"Until we meet again, dear heart."

Dominant figure

Fentie was a dominant figure in Yukon politics for more than a decade, initially as an NDP MLA and later as leader of the conservative Yukon Party, and premier.

He led the Yukon Party to victory in the 2002 territorial election and led two majority governments before retiring from politics in 2011. After leaving office, he kept a relatively low public profile.

In August, his party announced that Fentie had died after a battle with cancer. He was 68.

About 250 people attended the celebration of life for the late Dennis Fentie in Whitehorse Friday. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Tributes in legislature

On Thursday, MLAs paid tribute to Fentie in the Yukon Legislature.

Premier Sandy Silver praised his predecessor as a straight-talking fighter and an "outstanding person" who helped the territory's economy grow through mining and tourism. 

"For so many Yukoners, Mr. Fentie was an inspiration and an example of [a] true definition of public service," Silver said.

"Dennis brought a common, plainspoken approach to government and to his role as premier. It was this authenticity that helped garner him so much support."

'It was [Fentie's] authenticity that helped garner him so much support,' said Yukon Premier Sandy Silver in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. (Nelly Alberola/Radio-Canada)

MLA Liz Hanson, who once sparred with Fentie when she was NDP leader, said he had the "shrewd and piercing gaze of a hawk — quick to assess both the situation and to seize an opportunity."

"He knew that it takes two strong wings to have that hawk soar, and so he was not reluctant to take good ideas from both the left and the right wings of this assembly."

Patti McLeod, Fentie's friend and successor as Watson Lake MLA, said her community was always proud of him. She said it was amazing after he died to hear tributes from so many people.

"He had the gift to foresee problems, assess people for their sincerity, and something that always impressed me was his recollection of people — their name, and their life situation," she said.

"I asked around for some amusing stories about Dennis, and as it turns out he was far better behaved than some of us who knew Dennis." 

Friday's celebration of life lasted about an hour and a half, followed by a reception.

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Steve Silva

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