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In 1985 during a break in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention, then mayor Ralph Klein introduced several of his Canadian colleagues to a round of spirited banter at the St. 28. Louis hotel, in downtown Calgary. Louis hotel in downtown Calgary.

“He was a customer that over time became a buddy,” says the 77 year old shoemaker who opened Joe’s Shoe Clinic at the Lakeview Shopping Centre in 1972.

“We knew him as Ralph he was just a regular guy who wanted to be treated that way, even when he was being driven around by a chauffeur.”

One day, Zirger recalls the then premier of Alberta jumping out of the black sedan in his slippers and rushing into his tiny shop. “He was in a panic, he had an important meeting to go to,” he says, chuckling at the memory. “I said, ‘Ralph, it’s a good thing your shoes are ready.'”

Over the coming days and weeks, some of the most prominent Calgarians, Albertans and Canadians will share their reminiscences about our city’s 32nd mayor and province’s 12th premier, a larger than life character who, for better or worse depending on who’s doing the talking, had a big hand in shaping our province and country.

Ralph Klein, who died March 29, has left those pundits, colleagues, adversaries and friends with more than enough fodder to fill an encyclopedia, from his infamous verbal bombs to his public struggles with alcohol, as well as his tough nosed economic policies that were reviled by many but that also saw Alberta with no debt when he left office in 2006.

There are many, though, who got to know the 70 year old in a manner far from newspaper headlines and TV clips of legislature scraps. They saw how Klein’s long lauded common touch in politics was no act. This one time underdog was indeed a regular guy who never forgot his working class roots and the people who had put him in office.

“Whenever he was walking by the shop, he always made a point to stick his head in and say hello,
mens polo pants Ralph's common touch was no act
” says Zirger, a Yugoslavian expat. “Some of my friends didn’t like his politics, but I always stuck up for him. He was a down to earth guy who even when he became premier, always stopped to say hello and have a chat.”

Taking time for people was something that Frank Sisson always marvelled at in his longtime friend.

“He’d sit down and if there was someone new, he’d take the time to teach them how to play three card poker,” says Sisson, who for nearly 50 years ran the Silver Dollar Casino in the city’s southeast. “And if someone saw him and wanted to talk politics, he’d have the patience to listen.”

Klein and his wife Colleen were regulars at the casino for many years, says Sisson, who adds both liked to wander around and meet everyday people. “He’d have bodyguards as the premier and our policy was to leave him alone until he wanted to chat,” he says. “That would usually last about two minutes he would be dining earlier in the evening with the prime minister of Canada and then later in the evening, sitting with regular folk playing a game of cards.

“He wasn’t a Mr. Big Shot type, he regularly got off that pedestal he was put on and hung out with average people Ralph needed to spend time away from those who would just tell him what they thought he needed to hear.”

Some of those friends he made in the community became part of his inner circle of trusted confidantes. When Colleen Klein appeared on her husband’s behalf at City Hall to receive his long overdue Order of Canada last November, the invitation list offered up only one fellow politician, former health and finance minister Shirley McClellan.

“When he came for dinner, we never talked politics,” says Annette Fung, who was in attendance at the Order of Canada ceremony. Her family has run the Silver Dragon restaurant in the city’s Chinatown district since 1966.

“How should I say this? As long as I’ve known him, Ralph has never acted like he was somebody high up.”

Fung is speaking from extensive experience. Klein started patronizing the restaurant when he was a young reporter; the Silver Dragon competed for the St. Louis Hotel as the place you’d be sure to find the former mayor when he had gone AWOL at city hall.

“I would see people go up to him all the time at the restaurant, and he always had time for them,” says Fung. “He was very patient and a good listener. I cannot find words to say how warm he was to us and to all the other customers.”

It was the desire to explore this lesser known, human side of Ralph Klein that led Jinder Oujla Chalmers to create her documentary entitled Ralph Klein: No Ordinary Man.

The profile, which aired on the Documentary Channel in 2006, confirmed much of what those who knew the private Klein had been saying for years.
mens polo pants Ralph's common touch was no act