10/23/2012 01:01 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

Hamilton to honour Lincoln Alexander with 3 days' mourning

Lincoln Alexander is in Hamilton today, where he will remain.

The former lieutenant governor of Ontario and Hamilton MP is lying in repose on the second floor of City Hall until Thursday evening.

Organizer Jennifer Kaye said the prolonged period of repose reflects Alexander's great stature in the city.

Kaye, who knew Alexander, said the last time she saw him was on “his scooter in Jackson Square.”

“He said 'that's a lovely sweater you have on.' That was Linc; he was very charming.”

Though such an occasion demands certain formal protocols from both city staff and the public, Kaye said that a personal touch is equally important.

That intention is evident on the tables that line the corridor on the second floor. There are pictures of Alexander and his wife Marni on one table. On another, sits a selection of Alexander's many honorific hats and medals. He was honorary chief of Hamilton emergency services, for one.

A large bronze bust of Canada's first black MP sits to the right of Lincoln Alexander's coffin, which is draped in the Canadian flag.

'You've got to get up, dress up and show up'

“You've got to get up, dress up and show up,” said Marni Alexander, the widow of Lincoln Alexander, echoing one of her husband's famous sayings.

And get up, dress up and show up she did — and will.

Mrs. Alexander will be greeting officials, visitors and members of the public personally over the next three days.

It's a commitment she's proud to fulfill.

“That's what Linc would be doing,” she said.

“There's no way he would walk through this building without saying hello to every single person that was holding the door, that was sweeping the floor, that was emptying the garbage or the Mayor. He was always open, absolutely open,” she said.

Mrs. Alexander reflected on her husband's habit of breaking protocol, a personal characteristic that occurred to her while driving into Toronto for his lying in state.

“When we were driving into Toronto with the limos and the people stopped in Toronto and put their hands over their heart and just took a second. And I know that if he were in the car with me, and I think he was, he would have driven the limo over the curb. He would have opened the door and he would say 'who are you? Why are you here? What do you do and how much money do you make?'

“And if you were a good looking woman,” she added, playfully, “he'd have no hesitation to tell you 'You are one good looking woman!'”

Alexander's openness and singular interest in his fellow citizens may have made getting through Jackson Square an endurance trial for his wife — “You go in one door and come out the next day!” she shared jokingly — but it was his ceaseless interest in others that was his most impressive feature as a leader, she feels.

She recalls one night when her husband received a phone call from an agitated stranger.

“I said, 'Well, Lincoln, you don't have a private number?' And he said, 'No, I don't have a private number. I'm here to serve, not to be an obstacle.' And I thought, 'OK, Marni, that's the bar. And that's why I'm compelled to be here. I can do no less.”

One moment in the past few days of personal trial and public responsibility has stood out most clearly for the widow, however. It's one that gives her great comfort.

“Last night when we came into Hamilton it was raining and there were a number of lights [in the motorcade]. As we approached City Hall the streets were shining with the rain and it doubled the effects of the lights. And my god, I'm behind him [Alexander's limo] and the funeral home had put the family crest on the back of the limo and as we're coming in the lights are all over and I thought, 'Linc, my god can you make an entrance or what?'

'A public procession'

Marni Alexander opened the day of public mourning shortly after eight o'clock Tuesday. Dressed in a black suit and wearing a black hat and veil, she formed the head of a procession of city officials come to pay their respects. Directly behind her was Mayor Bob Bratina and members of City Council as well representatives from Hamilton Police Services, including Chief Glenn DeCaire.

Alexander stood for a moment before her husband's coffin. A few moments later, Bratina and members of council formed a semi-circle around Alexander's coffin.

Alexander and Bratina then stood and received honoured guests and the public.

There were many hugs from city officials and members of the public who made it out despite the rain. There were many jokes and smiles. There were some tears. Maria Pearson, councillor for Stoney Creek, couldn't hide her sense of loss.

“I go back some years with Linc,” she said later. “ I knew him when he was a lawyer and I was a law assistant.”

Pearson, who called Alexander a “gentle giant” said he had a great sense of humour.

“There are a lot of memories for me,” she said, still moved by her thoughts of the past.

“I'm glad he's home. I think he'd be thrilled [with the event]. Other than thinking we're putting on too many airs for him,” she said, before adding that it's only his due.

“This guy is a testament to all that's great about Hamilton and is an inspiration to every demographic,” said councillor Jason Farr (Ward 2), who brought his seven-year-old son Jake to pay his respects.

“He's a great representative of the Hamiltonian mentality, which is 'we're all in this together,” said Farr.

Alexander's status as 'Mr. Hamilton' was a theme often invoked by those present. For Bratina, Alexander's significance to the city's reputation can't be underestimated.

“The presence that Mr. Alexander had in the city and the way he represented us in the province and the country was remarkable. Our loss is the loss of a great ambassador for the city,” said Bratina.

That loss was felt by many present, even those who barely knew Alexander.

“I think what you'll notice when you see people coming up to pay their respects and to speak to his wife Marni is the sincere loss of someone they feel is a friend even though they had a passing acquaintance.

Hamiltonian Billy Rosart, 60, made it out in the rain to say his goodbyes to Alexander.

“I've known Linc for 50 years,” said Rosart. “I used to deliver the Hamilton Spectator to his office,” he said.

“I knew Linc before he was elected,” said councillor Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12). “The skill he had — he could ground you real quick. Very politely and with humour he brought you back to the real issue.”

Councillor Terry Whitehead (Ward 8) also went back some years with Alexander. He recalled that Alexander encouraged him to get into politics. “He said, you've got chutzpah,” Whitehead shared.

Whitehead was pleased by the event's celebrating Alexander's life in Hamilton. “It's a testimony to his love for the community and the community's love for him,” said Whitehead. “ The reality is that he's Mr. Hamilton.”

The Mayor also remarked on the importance of paying public respects over the course of the next few days.

“It's important that we have the last opportunity to pay our respects and say goodbye. As the man who was chosen the greatest Hamiltonian, none of us will be at another event such as this,” said the Mayor.

The public is invited to honour Lincoln Alexander's memory at City Hall Tuesday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On Friday, a state funeral will be held at Hamilton Place. The procession will start at city hall at 12:30 p.m. The route will travel east on Main Street, stopping in front of the Cenotaph before moving on the Hamilton Place.

The funeral will begin at 2:30 p.m. The public is welcome. But seating is limited and the doors of Hamilton Place will close at 2 p.m.