ALBERTA

Ralph Klein Funeral: Canadians Remember Former Alberta Premier

04/05/2013 04:44 EDT | Updated 04/05/2013 09:11 EDT

Ralph Klein was remembered as a "man of the people" at a memorial ceremony in Calgary on Friday.

Dignitaries attending the service included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Alberta Premier Alison Redford, former prime minister Jean Chretien and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

"To Albertans he was King Ralph ... but we said it in a way that we never meant it," Harper said to laughs from Klein's friends, colleagues and constituents at downtown's Jack Singer Concert Hall.

"He was King Ralph only in the sense of being a king-sized character. But in personality and demeanor he was really, to us, Citizen Ralph," Harper continued to applause.

"Premier Klein was a very strong leader who made decisions that he believed were in the best interest for the long term of the province. And I think they proved to be that," said Redford.

People began lining up outside the concert hall at 7 a.m. to secure one of the available 1,100 seats.

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Remembering Ralph

Nenshi declared April 5 as 'Ralph Klein Day' to honour the former Alberta premier, presenting a Calgary flag to Klein's wife, Colleen, in a brief ceremony before the memorial.

It was an eclectic mix, ranging from people who knew Klein only as a politician to those who remembered him from his days as a city hall reporter.

"I knew him from the bar days at the Queens Hotel," said Andie Wolf Leg, sporting a "Ralph Klein for Mayor" button.

"We met in '79 and we partied like hell. I could still see him dancing and moving about," said Wolf Leg, who started to dance around as she recalled the story.

"He was a good man and I never saw him in any kind of an argument or a fight."

Michael Sztogryn was Klein's neighbour and lined up for a seat inside.

"We saw Ralph Klein on a fairly regular basis in his PT Cruiser and he always said hello. His wife would always say hello when she was walking their dogs," he said.

"I admired the man. He always said what he meant and he meant what he said and that was a big thing."

Klein died March 29 at age 70 after a battle with dementia and lung disease.

His health deteriorated shortly after he retired as premier in 2006 after serving as Progressive Conservative leader for 14 years.

"Klein was almost the king of the politically incorrect statement and he was able to say some politically incorrect things — some controversial — but it didn't impact his ability to get re-elected, maintain the popularity and support of the people," said Alberta Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith.

With files from the Canadian Press