The Late Honourable Norman K. Atkins
Honourable senators, I guess some weeks are tougher than others. I had just been reflecting on the death of former Prime Minister Trudeau when yesterday I read a tribute to Mario Laguë, a friend and former Director of Communications for Michael Ignatieff. Now Norman — or “Kemp” as he was known to his close friends — is gone. I can hardly believe it. It was not supposed to end so soon. There was still so much to talk about and so much to learn from this gentle man.
He was my mentor in the Senate. This aisle in front of us did not separate us. It acted as a bridge to ideas and friendships. I truly believe that Senator Atkins was a bridge for everyone in this chamber. Norman loved this place. When you walked into his office, it was like walking into living history, a reminder of the golden days of Bill Davis and the glory days of Brian Mulroney. Norman was the Big Blue Machine, but he would giggle when you said that to him.
Let us take away those political labels or affiliations for a moment because today they do not matter. What matters is the life of Senator Atkins. How many times did I watch senators from both sides of this bridge walk up to Norman, sit down beside him, have a chat and leave knowing they were a little wiser for the moment? Norman was a true believer in the Senate.
I cannot help but remember how Norman and Senator Michael Forrestall helped me when I sat on the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. We were having hearings in Washington. It was wonderful that they shared what they knew, never hesitating to feed my insatiable appetite for understanding issues. What was equally or more important was the friendship. Once the hearings were finished, we went to a ball game and had a lot of laughs — a genuine moment in the sun. This was not about politics. Norman was that bridge, again, to a good place. I am talking about that part of life you do not always expect when you get older — new and enduring friendships.
There is always so much to learn, and Norman was a teacher. He taught me, as I am sure he taught others here, his political history. He was a true insider, and a person who could motivate others. He was a real campaigner and a politician who never backed away from a challenge.
In closing, I remind honourable senators what Senator Atkins said in his retirement speech a short time ago. He was talking about the influence of his father who was a Vimy Ridge veteran. He said:
My father taught me a great deal about values, ethics, loyalty to a cause and loyalty to one’s beliefs. He was so proud of his country and its people; he was my greatest influence and a good man.
Norman, you have been my greatest influence in the Senate and you, too, are a good man. Thank you.