The Late Honourable Alasdair Graham, P.C.
Honourable senators, those of us who were lucky enough to be close to the Graham family knew Senator Graham as Uncle Al or Big Al. It was the early 1970s and I was thrilled to be a reporter on Parliament Hill, and because of Maritime friendships, family and other political connections, I got to know Al.
He always seemed to be in a hurry. I know that former Senator Hugh Segal was known as the “Happy Warrior,” but I believe the same moniker applies to Al Graham. Perhaps a better phrase would be the “Happy Traveller.” As president of the Liberal Party of Canada, he would do anything and go anywhere at a moment’s notice for his Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
It always seemed when you covered the Prime Minister that it was Al Graham who was in small-town Canada first, rallying the troops, making sure that a few days later when Mr. Trudeau would arrive, the room was full of enthusiastic Liberals.
In those days, there were also enough Liberal MPs to form a good hockey team. Big Al was the leader. I must say it was easier playing against him than against his sons. They are a legendary hockey-playing family.
His children loved him and he loved them. That ever-present smile and infectious enthusiasm seemed a permanent fixture of his personality, but there was a sensitive, serious and committed Al Graham. On this day, June 4, the twenty-sixth anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square, I’m sure Al Graham would be standing here in the Senate talking about human rights.
The Happy Traveller took democratic freedoms and human rights quite seriously. He travelled the world on election-observing missions. One in particular stands out. In 1986, Senator Graham was an election observer in the Philippines. He wasn’t happy with what he saw with the corrupt Marcos regime. At the time, Senator Graham said the election observers saw widespread evidence of irregularities, fraud, vote-buying and intimidation.
The Filipino community in this country never forgot Senator Al Graham’s courageous stand, and they were also by his bedside in Halifax when Al passed away in April. That says something about the man.
At the end of the day, I believe a person is measured not by what he or she says they will do, but just by getting it done. This is where commitment comes into play.
Disabilities, particularly adults with special needs, are also an issue close to my heart. As mentioned, Senator Graham was the first National Patron and Ambassador for L’Arche Canada. We know the L’Arche movement founder was Jean Vanier, son of former Governor General Georges Vanier. Al was a disciple in the true meaning of the word in spreading the word of helping others. The Happy Traveller was dedicated to this work.
When he died, L’Arche Canada said they were:
. . . remembering Al today as a committed public servant, as a great statesman, and as a man of true wisdom and compassion.
As my leader Senator Cowan said, many of us were there at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Halifax for Al’s funeral. Never ever have I heard “Amazing Grace” sung so beautifully. The song captured the moment.
These words from his obituary capture the man:
. . . Al possessed a down-to-earth Cape Breton sensibility, and had a gracious ability to connect with people from all walks of life. He saw beauty in everyone and treated all with dignity.
For my part, honourable senators, Al Graham was a friend who, by example, was a teacher in what a good senator can do. Thank you.