‘A truly great Canadian’: Jim Carr mourned at memorial service in Winnipeg

Long-time politician Jim Carr is being remembered as a larger-than-life father who loved his children, a dedicated and tireless public servant, and a ‘truly great Canadian.’

Friends, family and loved ones, along with politicians of every stripe, including Canada’s Prime Minister, gathered at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg to pay their respects to Carr.

Following a battle with cancer, James (Jim) Gordon Carr died on Dec. 12, 2022, at the age of 71.

A statement from his family said he was surrounded by his loved ones when he passed away. In keeping with Jewish tradition and practice, a private family funeral service and burial took place on Wednesday.

Carr leaves behind his wife, Justice Colleen Suche, his six children and step-children, and three grandchildren.

“Of all the things he was to people he came across in life, to me he was always simply dad – a larger-than-life figure whose impact on me was unrivalled,” said Carr’s son Ben during a eulogy.

Ben said his father was a gifted musician, playing the oboe from a young age and, at 16, played with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

“Music was a passion he carried with him until the end as the sound of Beethoven and other greats played in his ears over his last few days. It was exactly what he wanted,” Ben said, recalling times when his father would sing him to sleep to folk classics such as James Taylor’s ‘Sweet Baby James’ and Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune.’

He said Carr’s two-year-old granddaughter already knows all the words to Sweet Baby James.

Beyond the music, Ben said his father believed strongly in public service.

“He could hear and see beyond the noise and distractions that always lingered in the background of the political arena, and in doing so, he would find the commonalities through the humour, respect and courtesy that one needs to build meaningful relationships with people on a human level,” he said.

Carr had been battling multiple myeloma and kidney failure since 2019. Ben said his father ended election night by giving an upbeat victory speech to a large crowd before heading to the hospital for the night. The next morning he received his diagnosis.

Despite the cancer, his family said he continued to work in the House of Commons, most recently passing his private member’s bill on Dec. 8, which focused on building a green prairie economy.

The bill received royal assent on Dec. 15, days after Carr’s death, officially making it Canadian law.

It was that kind of ‘tireless’ work that Ben said showed in his father’s successes.

Carr was first elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba for Fort Rouge in 1988.

He went on to be elected as Liberal Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre in October 2015. During his time in Ottawa, he served in various roles on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, including as Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of International Trade Diversification, and special envoy to Prairies.

In speaking at Carr’s memorial service on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Carr brought a ‘reliable prairie pragmatism’ to the cabinet table.

“This week, we felt his absence deeply. While member after member spoke, a vase of white flowers occupied his front-row desk in the House of Commons,” Trudeau said.

Flowers and a portrait of the late Jim Carr sit on his desk in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“This week, we are heartbroken. Jim will be missed by the people who had the honour of working with him and learning from him.”

Trudeau said Carr had a special way of encouraging him – a trait that Trudeau said he only discovered this week was shared with everyone.

“He knew exactly what to say and asked after my feelings, (he) inspired me to continue doing difficult things in difficult moments,” he said.

Ben said Carr had planned to give a farewell address in the House of Commons but died before he had the opportunity. Ben read a portion of that address on Saturday.

“Never stop learning, keep an open mind, speak only when you have taken the time to consider your words carefully, treat the moment in which you choose to speak them with equal care,” Carr had written.

“Seek to build bridges and consensus. Add chairs around the dinner table. Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, be kind to each other.”

The Prime Minister presented the Canadian flag that flew on the Peace Tower on Monday, the day Carr died, and a copy of his bill that received royal assent to Carr’s family.

“Of course, Jim still had a lot more to say and to do. Cancer took him from us far too soon, but Jim leaves behind a legacy that is more than most of us would dare ask of a life. A man of the arts, a man of letters, a man of faith, a man of service, a gentleman in every sense of the word,” Trudeau said.

“Jim was and ever will be a truly great Canadian.” 

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