OTTAWA — Rod Zimmer — athlete, fundraiser, corporate executive and Manitoba senator — died Tuesday at the age of 73, a party official confirmed.
Zimmer battled throat cancer and pneumonia in his later years and became gossip fodder when he married a woman 46 years his junior. He was also named by the auditor general as one of the members of the upper chamber who improperly claimed tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.
Former senator Rod Zimmer leaves Provincial Court in Saskatoon, Sask., Wednesday, August 29, 2012. (Photo: Liam Richards/CP)
But his dedication to Liberal ideas and his hard work ethic were hallmarks of his career, says former Liberal member of Parliament Anita Neville.
"He was certainly a very committed Liberal, a very hard-working Liberal," said Neville, who held the Winnipeg South-Centre riding for the party between 2000 and 2011, and who first crossed paths with Zimmer in the 1990s.
"What I ... remember is his tremendous willingness and energy that he put into mentoring young people within the Liberal party — how to get active, helping them with fundraising."
As a young man, Zimmer was a champion swimmer, diver and water skier. He had a lengthy private-sector resume as well, including executive positions with the Manitoba Lotteries Foundation and CanWest Capital Corp.
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He started his political career as an executive assistant to James Richardson, a cabinet minister under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
But it was as a fundraiser that Zimmer made his name. He developed a reputation as someone who could quickly fill tables at an event and get supporters donating money.
"He had a wide network of people. People liked him, people trusted him ... and were anxious to support him and the effort that he put forward for the Liberal party," Neville said.
Zimmer raised eyebrows in 2011, when at the age of 68, he married 22-year-old aspiring actress Maygan Sensenberger. The following year, the couple were involved in a dispute on a flight to Saskatoon. Sensenberger pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance on an aircraft and received a suspended sentence with probation.
In 2013, Zimmer retired from the Senate, citing health troubles.
Last year, a review by the federal auditor general indicated that the former senator owed $176,000 in improperly claimed expenses — largely because he declared Winnipeg as his primary residence, but spent the vast majority of his time in Ottawa.
Zimmer's written response to the report was that he had to limit his returns to Winnipeg due to "serious health concerns, including recurring throat cancer and pneumonia."
The internal economy committee that oversees Senate spending said earlier this year that it was eyeing legal action against Zimmer and six other retired senators who did not repay the expense claims that were questioned.