10/27/2014 11:02 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST

Man who helped guide Ralph Klein's career, Rod Love, dead after brief illness

CALGARY - Rod Love, a longtime pal and political adviser of former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, has died.

Friends said he died late Sunday, a few weeks after posting on his blog that a cancerous tumour had been found in his upper body during a routine physical exam. Love, who was 61, wrote that he had started medical treatment in Calgary and was prepared for a fight.

Love first helped guide Klein's political career when Klein was elected Calgary mayor in 1980. He then took on the role of Klein's chief of staff as Klein moved from civic to provincial politics and was eventually crowned premier. Klein ran the province from 1992 to 2006. He died in 2013 at 70.

Love made a bid for elected office himself when he ran for the provincial Tories in Calgary in 1989, but lost. A decade later, he left Klein's side and started a consulting company specializing in strategic planning, communications and government relations.

He was married with three children. His family said in a statement that he had a powerful impact not only in politics, but at home.

Kelley Charlebois, executive director of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, said on the party's website that the Tories have lost an icon in Alberta.

"Rod's political legacy of service to Albertans and sense of humour will be missed by many of us. But his ability to grasp issues and his appreciation of what made Calgarians and Albertans tick will stay with me for my lifetime," Charlebois said.

"I rather think Rod is up there giving the big guy some sage political advice today."

Premier Jim Prentice called Love "an influential political strategist, a passionate Albertan and a proud Canadian.

"For the last few decades, it was impossible to have any interest in politics in this province and not know who Rod Love was and be aware of the impact he had on policy-making and political strategy."

Conservative Calgary MP Joan Crockatt described how she rode with Love in his red sports car during the city's pride parade in September, just before he made his cancer diagnosis public. She said even though he was never elected himself, Love was highly influential.

"He was the most brilliant backroom strategist that you could have had and I think he was largely responsible for keeping a lot of the coalition together that has kept Conservatives in power in Alberta for a long time."

Other condolences were also offered on Twitter from Calgary MP Jason Kenney, Alberta Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Former Alberta MP and federal cabinet minister Stockwell Day said in a tweet: "Angels of Political Genius created Rod Love, then threw away the blueprint. One of a kind."

(CHQR, The Canadian Press)