This week will see a lot of tributes to former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who passed away on Friday, March 29th. He’d been a television reporter and radio personality for a good chunk of his career, the Mayor of Calgary from 1980-89, and in provincial politics from 1989-2006, the large majority of that time as the Premier. Many Albertans just called him Ralph, a testament to his ‘man of the people’ persona. He was loved and despised, depending on who you were talking to.
As an editorial cartoonist, I liked Ralph a lot. He was fun to draw, was never boring, and I knew I’d miss him when he retired in 2006. One thing about Ralph, you always knew where he stood. Unlike so many politicians who will waffle on their ideals depending on the latest public opinion polls, you knew what you were getting with Ralph, even if you didn’t always like it. He was human and he made unpopular decisions sometimes. He also screwed up. But the difference with Ralph was that when you called him on it, he’d either argue his point, tell you to get over it, or in some cases, even apologize. There wasn’t a lot of bullshit with Ralph.
Like many Albertans, I have fond memories of Ralph Klein. He did a lot for this province. If you want specifics, just do a Google search. You’ll find no shortage of anecdotes and stories about King Ralph this week. One of my favorite personal stories took place right around his retirement. Knowing his resignation was coming and having already thought about the cartoon I’d do, this is what I came up with.
Under the guise of the ‘official portrait’ I tried to include as many of the controversies and noteworthy events from Ralph’s career as I could. There were his days socializing at the St. Louis Hotel in Calgary (written on the glass in his hand), the famous “shoot, shovel and shut-up” comment as well as the one about eastern “bums and creeps” straining Calgary resources. In his pocket, the $400 Prosperity Bonus cheques he gave to every Albertan after the provincial debt had been paid off.
The cartoon appeared in the Calgary Herald and a number of other newspapers. Shortly after, I received an email from someone who wanted a framed print of it, minus the ‘official portrait’ post-it note. I had removed that feature from the image when I’d added it to my portfolio. Two more print orders followed. Sometime the next month, Klein was honored at Mount Royal College in Calgary and a day later, I opened the Calgary Herald to see the photo below. Much to my surprise, one of the framed prints had been a retirement gift for Ralph. I ordered a copy of the photo for my office. Forgive me that I no longer remember the name of the Herald photographer who captured the scanned image below.
I look at the caricature now and I see all of the flaws. As I am a better artist today than I was then, there are a lot of things I would have changed and done better with this image, but every artist looking back on anything they’ve done could say the same thing of prior work. So, I try to look past that. It’s a good memory of moments in my career, both the time spent painting the caricature and knowing that Ralph was given a copy while he was still in good health. This is how I’d like to remember him and I’m glad I ordered the photo.