09/17/2012 12:37 EDT | Updated 11/17/2012 05:12 EST

Two flags drape Lougheed's coffin as mourners pay respect at legislature

EDMONTON - Albertans lined up by the hundreds in the late-summer sunshine outside the legislature Monday to pay their respects to Peter Lougheed.

Inside, his closed coffin sat on a black riser in the marble rotunda at the foot of the grand staircase that leads to the assembly chamber where Lougheed dominated for 14 years as premier.

The casket was draped in a hybrid Canada-Alberta flag to symbolize a man who called himself a Canadian first, but who was also a premier who successfully fought to make the province an equal player in Confederation.

"He got us our (oil) royalties back, for one thing. He was for Alberta," said Vern Kruk, who lined up early with his wife, Rose, to pay condolences and chat briefly with Lougheed's sons, Joe and Stephen, and his granddaughter Kathleen.

"He was a man who was very proud of our province and did what he could for the future of our province," added his wife.

"We've lost a great premier."

Behind them was Mavis Thomson, a childhood friend to one of Lougheed's children.

"We used to almost live at their house," said Thomson.

"I learned quickly why the other children would stay quiet at the dinner table. He would wrap your words around you and you would learn a lesson, (but) apparently he loved me for just speaking out."

Thomson teared up when asked about his legacy.

"Such class, such heart, such humanity," she said.

"He wanted the best for Albertans, and he had a vision, and we were really lucky that we brought him in (to office) and he saw his vision created."

Lougheed, premier of Alberta from 1971 to 1985, died last week of natural causes at age 84.

Tributes have been flooding in from all leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for a man chosen earlier this year by one public policy think-tank as the greatest premier of his generation.

Lougheed took a fledgling Progressive Conservative party in 1971 and defeated a Social Credit dynasty to launch one of his own that continues to this day.

As premier, he expanded funding for the arts and culture and invested in oilsands research that today brings billions of dollars into the treasury.

He was best known for his legendary fights with the federal government over oil wealth. Lougheed proved himself a relentless adversary and defender of the principle of provincial control of resources.

His body was brought to the legislature Sunday night in a white limousine and was to lie in state until late Tuesday.

The family will hold a private service and a public memorial is scheduled for Friday in Calgary.

Before members of the public were allowed in Monday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford, politicians of all stripes and other dignitaries paid their respects.

Redford returned early from a trade mission in China upon hearing of Lougheed's death.

She entered the rotunda with Lt.-Gov. Don Ethell and his wife. Lougheed had been a mentor to Redford dating back to her earliest days in politics.

She stood for 15 seconds in front of his coffin with the Ethells, but spent the last 30 seconds by herself. Twice she brought her hands to her face before moving on to hug the Lougheed family.

She declined comment, but in a news release said: "I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known (Lougheed).

"Despite the heavy responsibilities he carried, he never let his duties interfere with the most important thing — his family. He was always there for them.

"He led the way a leader should — with honour and courage, with honesty and openness, and with boundless compassion and respect for the people he served."

Two other Alberta Tory premiers also came to the legislature. Don Getty, in a wheelchair, was accompanied by his wife, Margaret, before Ed Stelmach and wife Marie visited. Former premier Ralph Klein, ill with a form of dementia, did not attend and neither did his wife, Colleen.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who has called Lougheed a personal inspiration, stood before the casket, then left with tears in his eyes.

NDP Leader Brian Mason stood alone to pay respects.

The Opposition Wildrose party was represented by MLA Joe Anglin.

Mounties in red serge and provincial sheriffs in navy blue stood vigil around the coffin. Alberta and Canadian flags stood at either end and gladioli and lilies encircled the rotunda. Mounted nearby was a black-and-white photo of a younger Lougheed standing at his desk and looking into the distance. The photo was picked out by his family.

There were no speeches. The rotunda fountain was switched off. The only sounds were the clicking of cameras and the clip of shoes on the marble floor.

Well-wishers on their way out signed condolence books next to photos of Lougheed in his heyday: the premier with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau; the premier and Diana, Princess of Wales. At the doorway was the famous photo of Lougheed arm-in-arm with his five fellow Tory MLAs, bounding up the legislature steps in 1967, as the official Opposition ready to take on the Social Credit government.

Four years later they themselves would take power.

Outside the legislature, deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said Lougheed was active in politics right up until the end, getting updates and offering advice to Redford's team.

"I had the honour of spending a bit of time with premier Lougheed lately because he really re-engaged himself with this government (and) with Premier Redford," said Lukaszuk.

"I think his currency will not expire in Alberta for many, many years to come, if ever.

"Many of us in elected office from time to time ask ourselves the question, 'What would Premier Lougheed do if he was faced with a situation like this?'"