'Tears of sadness for a life too short': Former MP Paul Dewar remembered at memorial service

Hundreds of people filled an Ottawa church to capacity on Saturday to say their final goodbyes to former MP Paul Dewar, who died from brain cancer earlier this month.

Former Ottawa-Centre MP died from brain cancer earlier this month

Former Ottawa Centre member of parliament Paul Dewar's wife and children spoke at the ceremony on Feb. 23, 2019. (Radio-Canada)

Hundreds of people filled an Ottawa church to capacity on Saturday to say their final goodbyes to former MP Paul Dewar.

Dewar, who represented the riding of Ottawa-Centre for almost a decade, died earlier this month from brain cancer. He was 56.

The gathering at Dominion-Chalmers United Church featured music Dewar loved — like Bob Marley — as well as prayers and tributes from friends and family. 

Among those in attendance were his former federal NDP colleagues Murray Rankin, Hélène Laverdière and former party leader Tom Mulcair, as well as his successor as Ottawa-Centre MP, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, and several city councillors. Ontario provincial opposition leader Andrea Horwath also attended.

The ceremony opened with a piano medley of Dewar's favourite songs, and a special blessing from Claudette Commanda, an Indigenous elder and good friend of the family. 

"To you, Paul, may your beauty guide us, in healing, in reconciliation and in community," she said, acknowledging the gathering was on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Commanda said she was honoured Dewar lived on the lands of her people, because he understood and respected their traditions. 

A memorial service was held Saturday for former Ottawa Centre member of parliament Paul Dewar, who died on Feb. 6. (Radio-Canada)

His wife's 'bubble of joy'

Dewar's wife and two sons spoke of the effect he'd had in their lives. 

 "I feel your spirit around me even though you are gone," Julia Sneyd said as she read aloud her letter to Dewar, adding her husband lived 80 years, but just compressed it into 56. 

"As we shed tears of sadness for a life too short, tears of joy for a life fully lived and tears of hope for a better world ... You will always be my bubble of joy."

Sons Jordan and Nathaniel recounted road trips, dance parties and musical evenings they'd shared with their father — saying it was his everyday actions that taught them the most meaningful lessons.

The family ended their tribute by telling the crowd "Smile and play, laugh and dance, give and share."

Dewar's siblings remembered a young boy in love with the world around him. He was a high energy and active child, his brother and sisters said. 

"[He was] always alive and in touch with every person, problem or policy he came in contact with," his older sister Cathy Dewar said.

 "To the end, Paul loved life."

Former Ottawa Centre member of parliament Paul Dewar died on Feb. 6. A memorial service was held Saturday. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Politics in his DNA

Reverend Brian Cornelius, who led the service, recalled Dewar crying the last time they spoke, not tears for himself, but for youth in need in the community because of his deep concern for disadvantaged teens.

"Politics were part of his DNA," Cornelius said, recounting a time he saw Dewar approach a young man and ask "so what should we do about the Senate?" 

When his diagnosis was given, Dewar's outlook didn't change, Cornelius said.

"He faced the reality of death, and chose to walk back into life."

Gavin Charles, part of the team Dewar worked with on Parliament Hill during his time as an MP, spoke of a team builder who wanted the best for his nation. 

Watch: Paul Dewar explains his interest in youth

Former Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, who has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, has started a new project to support young leaders called Youth Action Now. Its first major event is Thursday night at the Adult High School. 0:45

"He was honest and frank and loving and kind," Charles said. Dewar's encouragement to his team was always "To do good work, but mostly to do good." 

Dewar was a champion for human rights during his time on the Hill, pushing for more humanitarian aid and help for refugees.

Dewar's farewell message

Before his death on Feb. 6, Dewar wrote a letter that his family posted on Facebook. He said his illness made him truly appreciate the beauty in the world. 

"I told you that I thought my illness was a gift and I genuinely meant that. In this time in between, I got to see the wonder of the world around us." 

Watch: Paul Dewar says his diagnosis changed his outlook

Former MP Paul Dewar sits down with Rosemary Barton to talk about embracing life after his terminal cancer diagnosis. 11:20

Politics was a family affair for the former teacher. His mother was former MP and Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar. Paul Dewar won the Ottawa Centre riding for the NDP in the January 2006 federal election, taking over from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. He was defeated in 2015 by McKenna.

After going public with his diagnosis about a year ago, Dewar created Youth Action Now, an initiative to raise money to help engage young people to get involved in their communities. That movement will be among his lasting legacies.

"Youth Action Now was born in his dying," Cornelius said.

With files from Laurie Fagan