Rod Love’s memorial service yesterday held beautiful tributes from Thompson Macdonald, Heather Forsyth, Mike Harris, Don Martin as well as a heartfelt statement from his family. I knew him as a political advisor but so many others will remember him as a man whose world revolved around Charlene and their three children, James, Katie and Haylee. As per his request we were told that anyone else who tried to speak would have the microphone shut off and a sniper ready to take them out. It was the kind of tribute where you wish he could have been there to hear the wonderful stories and the impact he had on so many lives.
I have three clear memories of Rod Love before he became a friend.
I was the President of the campus PC club at the U of C and dropped some literature on his (ultimately unsuccessful) byelection campaign for Calgary Buffalo in 1992. Perhaps it’s a good thing he lost – his ability to tell it like it is often laced with profanity would have created havoc for the comms team. I went to a PC policy forum some years later where he explained that health care reform was needed because otherwise it was going to crush provincial finances (at the time health care was 20 per cent of government spending; today it is 40 per cent). He knew the problem was coming and that speech has stayed on my mind for more than a decade. Then a few years after that, CBC had us up against each other talking about whether Alberta needed a lobbyist registry. Even though I am convinced I was on the right side of this debate (the yes side) my friends all felt sorry for me because Rod beat me up so handily.
So when our mutual friend Hal Walker suggested that Rod and I meet on October 5, 2009 – 2 weeks after Paul Hinman had won the Calgary Glenmore byelection and 2 weeks before the Wildrose leadership vote I had mixed feelings. Fear, admiration and curiosity. It was one of the most important meetings of my political career followed by several more over the next 5 years and 3 premiers.
Every few months I’d tell my staff I’d need to get together with Rod so he could “do his trick” as we came to call it. Rod’s strategic brilliance was to identify a key point in the future and then work backward with events, speeches and strategy to get there. More often than not, it was drawn up on the back of a napkin or a random scrap of paper. More often than not, it was over a glass of wine. As Alison Redford’s mistakes grew and we were exposing more and more of it I asked Rod if he thought we should ease up. He told me, “If you do, you should be held criminally liable for negligence.” I remember meeting at his home in the first weekend of February lamenting that we didn’t seem to be able to get any traction over Redford’s increasingly lavish travel without looking petty and parochial. Within days of that conversation the Mandela travel bill story exploded, followed by the government planes story and six weeks later Redford was finished.
Perhaps the most important advice Rod gave me came from his experience in crisis communications. He told me when a crisis hits it’s important not to overreact or underreact. The challenge is figuring out which way to go when you are in the middle of it. He always seemed to know. When he saw we were really messing something up, one of my staff members would get a call.
As the last PC race was drawing to a close I called Rod to ask for his help on my fourth Premier, who was set to be elected a few days later on September 6. He seemed distracted. The next day he shocked us all by announcing on his blog that he had cancer.
Rod emailed me on October 5. Subject: Mischief. He wanted a lawn sign from the John Fletcher campaign. I got it dropped off right away and he asked for me to call him to complain. “No. No. No. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’ll be out on my porch and John Fletcher will come by doorknocking. He’ll put up a sign and post a picture on Twitter so Don Braid and Rick Bell will know I’m not dead.” He wanted to wait until after his last chemo treatment to do this bit of mischief but we never got a chance to speak again. Not long after I was told that he could no longer get out of bed.
His web host company – Not Your Average Jo – has said Rod’s blog, rodlove.com, is going to stay up. It’s fitting that someone with such a long reach in politics is going to continue to insert himself in it. What I will always be grateful to Rod for is his service to Alberta. This part of his biography sums it up so well: “As Chief of Staff (to Premier Ralph Klein), Mr. Love was involved in all aspects of the restructuring and refocusing of the Government of Alberta that led to the elimination of the deficit, the rapid elimination of Alberta’s debt, the highest credit rating and the lowest personal and corporate income taxes in Canada.”
The memorial service ended with a Johnny Cash song and I can’t help but think that Rod was trying to create one last piece of mischief with his choice of music: Ghost Riders in the Sky.
RIP my friend. You will be missed.