The world of politics produces a great variety of people -- ambitious, crafty, intelligent, ornery, brilliant, occasionally humble, leaders, followers, and, of course, partisan. But occasionally the political order produces something so rare in its field that it transcends all things political at the same time as it exudes it -- a beautiful personality.
Canada lost just such a gem this past week. Mike Robinson, 65 years old, had been vacationing in Normandy, France when he suddenly passed away while enjoying the company of friends and his wife ML.
When word came out of his passing, those who have been associated with federal politics for years went into a kind of shock. Mike had somehow been everyone's friend. As a fellow colleague of his in the political wars, Scott Reid, would put it eloquently on Facebook.
"He had no enemies ... In a business that is all about picking sides, waging battles, fighting campaigns and defeating opponents. He was universally admired and widely loved."
The words form a remarkable truth that aren't said often enough in the rough and tumble world of politics.
It seemed like everyone in Ottawa knew Mike Robinson far better than I did. And yet, like everyone else, I had been touched by his healthy and warm personality in ways that were unusual in that city. His son, Stuart, managed my Ottawa office. One day Stuart asked if I'd be willing to go with he and his Dad for dinner at Hy's Steakhouse -- a legendary Ottawa eatery.
From the moment the three of us sat down Mike was intensely curious about my motivation for being in politics. In fact, his inquisitive spirit reminded me very much of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. He had that ability to focus on you and really mean it. It ended up being an evening that would come back to me time and time again whenever politics itself became overpowering and I needed a good memory.
When our Southern Sudanese kids came to Ottawa, Mike and ML asked them over to their house and pressed them with every kindness. They were like that as husband and wife: A team that excelled in inclusive conversation, each weaving in and out with words that complemented the other and filled the moments with warmth.
Mike phoned me once and asked if I'd be willing to visit him at his Earnscliffe office, close to the National War Memorial. Wanting me to know just how much he loved and respected his son, Stuart, he told me of how he was so much enjoying the arc of the young man's life and how he appreciated my support of his growth. This was a man fully unafraid of emotion.
The week after politics ended for me in 2011, a letter came in the mail from Mike, strongly encouraging me to get back into the fray as soon as possible because, "It's a rare gift, Glen, to work with someone whose compassion for country can encompass the good people of other political parties and work along side them. We need that kind of spirit in Ottawa more than ever."
The truth was then, and will be forever so in the minds of those who knew him, that Mike himself was the living embodiment of what he had just written me. Everywhere, in every party, were good and abiding friends of his. His persuasions were Liberal -- everyone knew it -- but his spirit was Canadian. He enjoyed his own personal convictions, but he intrinsically sensed that his country could never survive without the need for respect and collaboration with those of other persuasions.
Somehow Mike mastered the art of mixing conviction, gregariousness, generosity, and inclusiveness in a way hardly ever seen in federal politics. He was a true man for all seasons and for every reason that was right and sound.
To those who knew Mike much better and are grieving deeply at the moment I offer my great condolences -- your present pain is the inevitable result of deep friendship and must be endured in his honour.
His greatest gift to us all, important or, like me, less so, is the sense of goodness and fairness he left us in a world where cut and thrust are essential tools of the trade. He was good in every way that we could possibly imagine that word.
It's true that he had no enemies, but his great legacy will be the sheer amount of friends that he had in every corner of the country, regardless of party affiliation. He possessed a gift so rare and exquisite that one wouldn't normally think of searching in Ottawa to discover it -- indeed, he transcended it.
His was a beautiful personality that expressed what politics could mean and become in a world so badly in need of it.
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