OTTAWA - Ernest Cote, a celebrated Canadian veteran of D-Day who lived a storied life both on and off the battlefield, has died at the age of 101.
Cote was remembered fondly Thursday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and senior cabinet members, but also by historians like Serge Durflinger, who said the former soldier led a rarified life of adventure and accomplishment.
"It is the humility I will remember the most," said Durflinger, who teaches at the University of Ottawa and a friend of Cote's for 15 years. "He was always giving others the credit."
As a lieutenant-colonel, Cote was a senior planner for the invasion of Normandy and the logistics officer with the 3rd Canadian Division, which landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.
He was mentioned in dispatches for his role in the historic invasion that led to the downfall of Nazi Germany and made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George VI, an honour that was on display in the hallway of his Ottawa home for the rest of his life.
Following the war, he went on to have a distinguished career in the federal government as a diplomat and later a senior official.
Cote participated in the first meetings for the United Nations General Assembly in London, New York and Paris and helped draft the charter of the World Health Organization.
During the FLQ crisis in 1970, he was deputy solicitor general and deeply involved in the response to the terrorist front. Cote personally knew every prime minister from MacKenzie King to Pierre Trudeau.
"He was present at so many compelling events that have become touchstones in our understanding of the 20th century," said Durflinger, who interviewed Cote for the Canadian War Museum's oral history collection.
"His was a life of high-level achievement in the service of the country, the likes of which are unlikely to be often repeated."
Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole rose in the House of Commons to pay tribute to Cote, noting that the old soldier was present and accounted for at the recent 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.
“A personal highlight of my public life was seeing Mr. Cote, at 101, park his walker and walk on to Juno Beach last year,” the minister said.
The prime minister tweeted his condolences, calling Cote "a true Canadian hero."
Cote, a fixture at Remembrance Day ceremonies and at the Canadian War Museum, was most recently in the news as the victim of a violent home invasion in Ottawa, where he was tied up by a suspect who was later linked to a trio of unsolved murders.
Police found DNA at Cote's home invasion which matched traces left at the scene of the 2007 killings of retired Tax Court judge Alban Garon, his wife, Raymonde and their neighbour Marie-Claire Beniskos.
Cote, born in Edmonton, Alta., on June 12, 1913, trained as a lawyer before the Second World War intervened and he joined the army as a lieutenant and member of the Royal 22e Regiment.
Durflinger says the responsibility of helping plan D-Day weighed heavily.
"He was always hoping he would measure up," Durflinger said, recalling the interviews they'd done.
The questions he asked himself at the time were significant: "Had life prepared him for this? Was he up to that task?"
It was Cote's job to ensure that the troops got what they needed, from calculating the precise amount of gasoline and bullets to the number of white crosses for burial — something Cote went to great lengths to conceal from the soldiers doing the fighting.
"The sense of obligation to the men and to success, the details, the care and the sense of sophistication — these are things you don't get from reading a book about D-Day," Durflinger said.