Jean Claude Killy

Farewell to Alberta’s Brand Ambassador

This issue of Brandscapes is dedicated to former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed.  In it I share my personal recollections of the province’s quintessential brand ambassador.

Gratitude & Appreciation

All across Alberta there is a tremendous outpouring of gratitude and appreciation for the man who served as premier from 1971-1986.  Peter Lougheed passed away last week at the age of 84.

Although it has been more than 25 years since he left the political stage, he is still greatly respected and admired.  Peter Lougheed made an indelible impact on the province and its people.  So much of what Alberta has become is the result of his vision and policies.

The Personification of Alberta’s Future

When he swept into office in 1971, he was the personification of all that Alberta had the potential and desire to become.  He was young, smart, confident and energetic.  A Harvard-educated lawyer, Lougheed was articulate, urbane and ambitious.

Personal Impressions

In the 40+ years since he took office, Alberta has become an economic powerhouse and demonstrates many of the attributes that were modeled by the energetic young premier.  But to me there is so much more to Peter Lougheed than his grand public image.  My impressions of him are more personal.

Throughout my first career as a broadcast journalist, I had numerous encounters with Lougheed.  I watched him stir crowd enthusiasm to feverish heights on the election trail.  I saw him readily diffuse the toughest questions from hard-nosed journalists.  And I looked on as he circulated with charm and ease at an old time farm country barbecue.

A Big Political Battle

My first personal contact with Lougheed came in the fall of 1980 when I was a 21 year old rookie reporter.  Lougheed was embroiled in a biggest battle of his career – a bitter fight with the federal Liberal government over the National Energy Program.  The NEP was such an affront to the constitutional principle of provincial resource ownership that it sparked an instant surge in western separatism.

During his comments to the assembled media Lougheed’s words were strong, firm and principled.  He demonstrated courage and an unwavering commitment to uphold Alberta’s rights.  The man was a skilled and competent leader.

He Didn’t Take the Bait

A couple of years later I had a one-on-one interview with him at a political picnic.  I tried to draw him into commenting on the extreme positions being championed by the separatist camp.  But he didn’t take the bait.  Instead he offered a fatherly reply.  “Roger just because people say things over and over again, doesn’t make them true.”

Lougheed as Prime Minister?

Another memorable interview took place in Ottawa in June 1983.  The setting was the federal Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention, where the winner would in all likelihood become the next Prime Minister of Canada.  Many supporters lobbied him to enter the race, but for reasons too involved to explore in this memoire, Lougheed declined.  The possibility of leading the country must have been enticing for a man of his vision and ability.  During our conversation there was no inkling of doubt or second thoughts on his part.

High Profile Interviews

Lougheed was just one of the high profile figures I had the opportunity of interviewing during my media days.  There were many other politicians, including Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and John Turner.  And there was a fairly lengthy list of world renowned athletes, including World Series champions, NHL stars, a bull riding king and the Olympic skiing legend Jean Claude Killy.

Out of all of these big names, the individual who made the biggest personal impact was Peter Lougheed.

A Personal & Inspiring Influence

Brian Mulroney was very slick and charismatic.  It was weird, but you could actually “feel” when Mulroney was in the room.  Jean Claude Killy was the epitome of enchanting sophistication.  Peter Lougheed’s influence was personal and inspiring.

There was something unique about the way he interacted with people, even the hard-to-impress media types.  Like any politician, he would answer questions or sometimes stickhandle around them.

But in every encounter with Peter Lougheed there was something more.  Something deeper and more personal.  It showed up in the way he carried himself.  The way he would look you in the eye.  It showed up in his attitude and tone of voice.

Reach Higher

There was a strong subliminal prompting to reach higher, to grow and achieve.  There was tacit encouragement to be more and do more.  I felt it.  Others did too.  One of my mentors from years ago told me it was a very difficult thing for him to say no when Lougheed approached him to run for office.

In a private conversation with Lougheed when he was Premier, he demonstrated an interest in Roger the person, not just Roger the reporter.  The interest was genuine.  It wasn’t something that he switched on when he was campaigning for votes.  Instead I think it was something that he couldn’t turn off.  It was a core part of his personality.

A Chance Conversation

Not surprisingly his encouraging personal interest was part of my last conversation with him.  It took place about four years ago during a chance elevator encounter in a downtown office tower.

As I entered the elevator we made eye contact and he said hello.  There was that look on his face suggesting “don’t I know you from somewhere?”

In the 45 storey conversation that ensued I recounted our previous acquaintance.  Graciously and I believe genuinely, he seemed to remember.  Once the past connection was established, he was immediately interested in my current activities as a branding and naming consultant.  When the elevator doors opened we said goodbye and he wished me well.  I again felt the same stirring inside to be more and do more.

An Appreciative Farewell

Peter Lougheed had an inspiring quality that made a difference for a province and its people, including me.  For Alberta he was the quintessential brand ambassador.  For the people who knew him, he was a source of inspiration