Jock Osler, Beloved Politico. Honestly.

Guest Column / Lee Richardson

Jock Osler, a popular figure of national and Alberta political life who passed away August 5 at 83, bequeathed a bipartisan legacy of “respect, courtesy and generosity of spirit,” writes his longtime friend Lee Richardson, with whom former prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney shared their memories.

Jock Osler lived on the sunny side of the street. Through six decades of journalism and political life, he was always positive, never off-balance—the kind of person people liked to be around. To adapt an aphorism, he was always the same way twice—collegial, reflexively helpful, insightful and unfailingly, often hilariously, honest.

While there were other talented writers, superb political strategists and tacticians of all stripes in all parties, none could emulate Jock’s breadth of spirit and joie de vivre. He was fun, with a razor-sharp mind, a wry self-deprecating wit, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian political history.

But the thing about Jock was this: he respected everyone. Allies and opponents alike were treated with the same respect, courtesy and generosity of spirit. He regarded everyone he worked with as a colleague and made common cause with all for the job at hand in any election, and later for the good of the country.

Perhaps prophetic was an encounter shortly after Jock began his career in the newsroom of the Calgary Herald. The paper hired a young Joe Clark for the summer, (the future prime minister remembers being referred to as either, “copy boy” or “coffee boy”).

Clark recalls today: “Jock was the first to reach out, to take me in and
look after me and others in a hectic newsroom. He had a quality, a capacity to bring the team together.” Jock reached out again to assist then-rookie candidate Joe Clark in the 1972 federal election.

Seven years and two elections later, Joe was prime minister of Canada with Jock at his side, a trusted advisor. Of his loyal friend, Clark remembers now, “There is an intelligence of knowing things, and there is an understanding of things. That was the essential part of his advice.”

Through all the years in Ottawa, the exhilarating wins and the devastating losses, the party leadership contests and general elections, in government or in Opposition, Jock Osler was respected and admired on both sides of the House and in the Press Gallery for his decency, ethics and courtesy to all.

When Clark lost the hard-fought 1983 leadership battle to Brian Mulroney, the Progressive Conservative Party was fractured and divided.

With a general election looming, it was imperative the former leader and the newly elected Mulroney resolve their differences and unite their respective supporters. When Mulroney graciously extended the olive branch, Clark did not hesitate in response. The efforts of his collegial confidant, Jock Osler, were significant in that successful rapprochement.

During the early months of the new Mulroney government’s efforts to renew positive Canada-US relations with the White House and on Capitol Hill, Mulroney appointed Jock minister counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He now says of Jock, “He had an easy charm, a positive attitude, and that Alberta work ethic … he was a natural fit in Washington.”

Even in the sadness of his recent passing, it’s hard to think of Jock and not smile. He’ll be deeply missed for his sense of humour, his kindness, and his contribution to community, particularly here in Calgary.

An icon of the Calgary Stampede as, with his trademark baritone, voice of the Grandstand show, Jock was a community builder, and an animator in the theatre scene in Calgary. Jock and Diana gave generously of their time and treasure to numerous arts and community groups across the city. Their four children, Will, Suzy, Ted and John, were so loyal to Jock that, as reported by columnist Don Braid on his passing, they drew straws in 2005 to see not who would lose and donate a kidney to their dad, but who would win and donate a kidney.

While Calgary went through our eternal boom and bust cycles, every struggling arts group in the city wanted Jock on their board at the bottom of the cycle, both for his sage advice and connections, but probably even more for his calming influence.

Above all, he loved and was cherished by his family. He was a gentleman in the finest sense of the word and a shining example of a life well lived.

Jock, his beloved Diana and wonderful family have become a part of modern Calgary history. His legacy will live on in a grateful community.  

Lee Richardson, a Conservative MP during the Mulroney and Harper years, was previously chief of staff to Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, and later a director of the Calgary Stampede. He knew Jock Osler all along the way.