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Thursday May 14, 2015

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By Alan Hustak and Peter Stockland for VMO
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

A Jesuit priest who taught Jim Flaherty at Loyola High School in the 1960s remembers the former finance minister as a terrific organizer who, even as a teenager, had political ambitions.  

“I remember him for the passionate commitment he brought to sports and for the infectious enthusiasm he brought to everything he did,” said Father Michael Murray, who is now Loyola’s President.

“He was personable, congenial and he mixed well with others. He told a girl he was dating at the time that he would be Prime Minister of Canada one day, so even then he was thinking of public service.”

A state funeral will be held for Flaherty beginning at 3 p.m. today in Toronto’s St. James Cathedral. A spokesman for the church said it would be a breach of confidentiality to say why a Catholic is being buried from an Anglican church.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver a tribute to Flaherty at the service that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Governor-General David Johnston, former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a close friend of the late finance minister, are also expected to attend.

Flaherty, 64, died suddenly April 10. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack. Having served as federal finance minister since 2006, he resigned his cabinet post on March 18 this year. He had also served as finance minister of Ontario.

Although he attended Bishop Whelan High School in his native Lachine – and would graduate on a hockey scholarship from Princeton University – it was at Loyola that Flaherty first flourished. The yearbooks from his days at the renowned Jesuit school reveal he served as his class president, was active in senior football and hockey, and in 1966 was on the CBC television show Reach For the Top. He also organized a musical hootenanny.

The young woman to whom Flaherty confided his prime ministerial ambitions at age 16 now recalls, many years later, someone who never let the desire to succeed undermine his essential generosity and natural warmth.

“I was helping him prepare for a (high school) debate he was in and he said to me ‘you know what, Kath? I’m going to be the prime minister of Canada someday.’ He had that goal very early on. He almost made it. He was always a leader. He was just a natural leader,” Kathy McNally Mullins told VM0.

McNally Mullins and Flaherty were part of a group of fclose riends who hung around together during his Loyola years. They stayed in touch even after he went off to Princeton, but then life intervened.

Almost 40 years later, they met again at Loyola when Flaherty visited to give the graduation address in 2007.

“He saw me and right away said ‘Hi, Kath, how you doing?’ He was the same person. The man he became is the man he always was,” said McNally Mullins, an alumni assistant at Loyola.

According to an interview Flaherty’s mother Mary gave The Gazette in 2007, the family moved from Lachine to NDG in the early1960s so it would be easier for her five sons to attend Loyola. The family lived across the street from the school. Flaherty graduated from Loyola in 1966. He never forgot his alma mater and lived up to the school’s motto,  “A man for others.”  

Flaherty told Max Harrold, now a reporter with CTV, that Loyola formed him “intellectually, spiritually and physically,” and that he carried the Jesuit principles of “hard work, self-reliance and service to others” with him for the rest of his life.

Had it not been for Loyola, he said, he probably would not have won the scholarship to Princeton. (He completed his studies at Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School.)

Other Loyola graduates such former Mulroney speech writer L. Ian MacDonald, said Flaherty never lost the common touch or his sense of self-deprecating humour.  When the World Economic Forum recognized Canada’s banking system as the strongest in the world, his friends who would go golfing with him in Ireland teased him with catcalls of  “Best Finance Minister in the World,” as they hit the Irish pubs.

“That was the thing about Jim - he was a happy warrior, a man without malice," said MacDonald who edits Policy, a bimonthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy. "That is why he was loved on all sides of the House."

Even as Flaherty dealt with his failing health, he never lost his high regard for or devotion to public life.

"Public service is good for you," Flaherty told a group of students at the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in 2011 in a speech that, arguably, revealed his own deeper motives in entering politics.

"If money was all that mattered to me, I would still be working as a lawyer in downtown Toronto. Because, I can tell you, I would be making a lot more money than I am now. But I would have missed out on so many opportunities to shape and implement public policies that, in my opinion, have enriched others' lives and made our communities stronger.”

Public service runs in the family. His widow, Christine Elliott is a member of the Ontario Legislature.

 

 

 

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