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David Johnston feted as the people's Governor General at farewell ceremony

Governor General David Johnston and wife Sharon and dog Rosie leave following a ceremonial tree planting to commemorate the end of his mandate at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
September 29, 2017 - 7:00 AM

OTTAWA - As he prepares to return to private life after seven years as Governor General, David Johnston is being toasted as a warm and genial man of the people who connected deeply with Canadians.

Johnston's term ends Monday, when former astronaut Julie Payette is to be sworn in.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's known Johnston since childhood and has always considered him a "man of strength and intelligence and compassion," an athlete and an academic dedicated to education and lifelong learning.

Working with him since becoming prime minister two years ago, Trudeau says he's also come to know Johnston as a "man of integrity who embodies the principles for which our country stands."

As a parting gift, the federal government is donating a $3 million grant and up to $7 million in matching funds over 10 years to the Rideau Hall Foundation, a charity Johnston founded to promote equality of educational opportunity, invest in Canadian innovators and foster more volunteerism.

For his part, Johnston says it's been an honour to serve Canada.

"Serving as Governor General is a responsibility I have cherished for the past seven years," he said during a farewell ceremony Thursday in Parliament's Hall of Honour.

"I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to give back to this country I love so much."

Earlier Thursday, Johnston's name was immortalized in the cornerstone of a new tourist welcome centre on Parliament Hill that is slated to open next year.

At the ceremony, Trudeau had particular praise for Johnston's ability to connect "in deeply meaningful ways" with Canadians. Johnston's example is a reminder of how important it is to maintain a strong connection with people from all walks of life, he added.

Trudeau also praised Johnston's wife, Sharon, for her own "incredible" public service over the past seven years.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I need to express my deepest gratitude to their excellencies for their many, many contributions to Canada. Together you've made this country a better place to call home."

Prior to being chosen as Canada's 28th governor general in 2010 by then prime minister Stephen Harper, Johnston had spent a distinguished career in academe, including stints as dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, principal of McGill University, and president of the University of Waterloo.

He was born in Sudbury, Ont., the son of a hardware store owner and attended Sault Collegiate Institute in nearby Sault Ste. Marie. He played high school football and hockey and was scouted by the NHL at one point.

He attended Harvard University, where he was captain of the varsity hockey team and toyed again with the NHL before opting for Cambridge and then Queen's University.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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