February 01, 2016 - 6:00 AM
KELOWNA, B.C. - A former British Columbia premier is being remembered as a warm, witty man who helped guide the province out of a recession.
A celebration of Bill Bennett's life was held in his hometown of Kelowna, B.C., on Sunday, where friends and colleagues shared their memories of the man who helmed the province from 1975 to 1986.
He took over the Social Credit party from his father W.A.C. Bennett, who served as premier for 20 years.
Bill Bennett died Dec. 3 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years.
The former premier was notoriously frugal, and several friends sharing stories at the memorial said he treated the province's money the same way he treated his own.
"He was a strong leader in a strong province. He didn't bend for political convenience. He never sought the limelight. He walked the talk and he worked hard," businessman Jimmy Pattison told the crowd.
Politicians at the service included former prime minister Kim Campbell and Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon.
They spoke about Bennett's contributions to the province, including building the Coquihalla Highway and hosting Expo 86.
Campbell served as a senior aide in Bennett's office and said the former premier inspired her to pursue a career in politics.
"Everything important that happened in my life was his fault," she said to laughter.
Current Premier Christy Clark called Bennett one of Kelowna's greatest sons and said he was a courageous, loyal man who had a undeniable love for B.C.
"Premier Bennett loomed large over all the years that my political imagination really took shape," she said. "To me, the impact of Bill Bennett was that he literally was what leadership looked like."
That leadership meant standing up for smaller government and spending less, Clark said.
Those values inspired other politicians throughout the country.
"Bill Bennett's legacy of disciplined spending, balanced budgets and keeping taxes low was an example to all of us what a true modern conservative government should be," former prime minister Stephen Harper said in a letter read out during the ceremony.
While politics was a passion for Bennett, his two great loves were always his family and tennis, the crowd heard.
Several friends spoke about his competitive edge and dedication to the sport. One even brought up a tennis trophy Bennett constructed out of a Christmas tree stand, an old racket and a cup that had previously served as a potty for his four sons.
Bennett taught his family the value of quick wit, hard work and a dollar, said his grandson, Michael Bennett.
"To us, he remains one of the most interesting and inspiring people, yet he would always listen to us as if what we had to say was equally as interesting and important," he said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016