A St. Catharines take on Mulroney’s legacy

In the weeks since Mulroney’s passing, former MP Kenneth Atkinson has been thinking back to many fond memories from his time serving as a Conservative Member of Parliament. Pictured: Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Photo Credit: Parliament of Canada. 

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s state funeral took place in Montreal on Saturday, March 23, with many of his closest friends and colleagues in attendance. Among those to receive an invitation was Mr. Kenneth Atkinson, who served as a Member of Parliament in Mulroney’s government for St. Catharines from 1988 to 1993. 

“It was an honour to attend the event,” Atkinson shared in a recent interview with The Niagara Independent. “I was surprised, at first, as I hadn’t expected to receive an invitation, but apparently all of those who served in parliament with Mr. Mulroney were included. I saw so many of my old colleagues this past weekend, and we had the opportunity to remember a great man and leader.” 

Atkinson took some time to reflect on the funeral. 

“The importance of family was really emphasised throughout the service,” he said. “It was related how Mr. Mulroney spoke to his children daily, always remembering the birthdays of children and grandchildren, and how his wife, Mila, was his rock, and his equal partner through all of his life’s work,” Atkinson explained. 

“On a broader level, he was a man always seeking to grow interpersonal relationships… he would pick up the phone and talk to people, meet face-to-face, and listen to the ideas and perspectives of others. His love for Canada and his deep respect for Quebec were also huge components of who he was as a person, and his legacy.” 

In the weeks since Mulroney’s passing, Atkinson has also been thinking back to many fond memories from his time serving as a Conservative Member of Parliament. 

“During a state visit by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Rob Nicholson and I were at one point close as Prime Minister Mulroney walked by with President Bush,” said Atkinson. “Mr. Mulroney introduced us as the ‘boys from Niagara, and the Buffalo Bills fans,’ to which President Bush replied ‘Well, I’m a Houston Oilers fan!’… It was a very memorable moment!” 

“And then there was the state visit by Nelson Mandela, who visited Canada before any other country, after having been released from prison, to thank Mr. Mulroney, as well as the Canadian government and people, for their staunch support in ending Apartheid… it was an unbelievably inspirational event.” 

Atkinson also had some rich personal stories to share. 

“One time, when I was chairing the Ontario Caucus, and had to deliver my weekly talk, I was using crutches after knee surgery,” Atkinson recalled. “Mr. Mulroney had not seen me since the surgery, and he asked what had happened, to which I replied, ‘This is what happens when you chair the caucus,’ noting how much he always appreciated Mulroney’s great sense of humour.”

“And then there was the time when my father passed away… I received an outpouring of support from my colleagues, including many personal phones calls… but Mr. Mulroney was the first one to call, express how sorry he was, and chat with me personally. That is the kind of man he was.” 

Reflecting upon one of the most significant components of the service, Atkinson shared how Mulroney’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Theodora Lapham, sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, one of her grandfather’s favourite songs. 

“It was a very moving moment, which included his family, his Irish heritage, and his love of music,” Atkinson explained. “Toward the end of the song, we heard a recording of Brian Mulroney’s voice singing the song, which was very powerful.” 

In closing. Atkinson offered what he believes to be the biggest takeaways for a new generation of aspiring leaders from Mulroney’s example. 

“The importance of family and interpersonal relationships… in an era of texts and emails, those personal connections truly do still matter, and they are so incredibly important to life and leadership.”

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