05/09/2012 05:14 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Spouses of 13 Alberta premiers immortalized with pictures on wall of honour

EDMONTON - The better halves of Alberta's premiers found immortality Wednesday on the walls of the provincial legislature in a ceremony that saw four Tory leaders get together for the first time.

Premier Alison Redford joined former premiers Peter Lougheed, Don Getty, and Ed Stelmach for the unveiling of pictures of the 13 wives of former provincial leaders to honour their contribution to public life.

Margaret Getty, Jeanne Lougheed, and Marie Stelmach were on hand for the event in the 5th floor Carillon room.

Former premier Ralph Klein and his wife Colleen were absent. Klein has been in a care home, ill with a form of dementia.

Redford's husband, Glen Jermyn, was also absent.

The premier told the crowd, mostly friends and family of the three former premiers, that Jermyn was at home in Calgary getting their 10-year-old daughter to a swim meet.

"I think it's the first point we've all been together," added Redford, referring to the three former premiers seated in the front row.

The pictures of the previous 13 wives are displayed along the west wall of the fifth floor rotunda.

Speaker Ken Kowalski, who presided over the ceremony, said the idea came to him when he saw a similar display in the California state legislature. He said no other such exhibit exists in Canada.

Jeanne Lougheed, whose husband was premier from 1971 to 1985, said she recalled walking with Peter by Jasper Park Lodge during his years in power, urging he preserve and promote the province's culture by creating a separate ministry for it.

"And now we have a minister of culture and that's how it was done," she said.

Don Getty, Lougheed's successor from 1985 to 1992, was premier at a difficult time when oil prices crashed and the province incurred billions of dollars in debt.

"Five of those years were difficult years," said Margaret Getty. "If you look at the province as a ship we weren't sinking but we were listing."

She said the highlight was having tea with Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Box at the Ascot racecourse: white linen, fine china and exquisite clothes.

"It wasn't like any tail gate party I'd ever been at," she said.

Ed Stelmach ran Alberta from 2006 until 2011, a period that saw the province plunge from the heady heights of multibillion-dollar budget surpluses to multibillion-dollar deficits.

"They were trying times but when you stick together and have good people working it all comes together," said Marie Stelmach.

She said it was appropriate to have the ceremony close to Mother's Day.

"We're a little bit like the mothers of the province," she said.

After the ceremony, Don Getty said Margaret was a great support during his political years. He said they go way back.

"We met when we were 14 and she was a cheerleader," he said.

He said she would often travel with the team on road trips.

"So I got to know her in the back of a bus," said Getty realizing instantly, as reporters started laughing, that the line may not have been expressed as intended.

"Jeez," he laughed. "That just came out.

"Oh dear."