Palm Beach has lost one of its most beloved seasonal residents. The Rt. Honorable Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, who served two terms from 1984-1993, died on February 29th, after complications from a fall. He was three weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

My husband and I were fortunate to have known Brian and his wife Mila since we moved to Palm Beach in 2002.  He was a larger-than-life figure in his native country, and he was also just that to all who knew him on our tiny barrier island — towering in personality, brains and accomplishment. What made Brian’s stature even more impressive was his down-to-earth nature, generosity of spirit and emotional intelligence. He was also in possession of another rare gift: The ability to make everyone he met feel special. This last trait was evident the first time I met him when I found myself seated next to him at a dinner party. I was nervous and afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold my own should the conversation turn to, say, foreign affairs. My anxiety was quickly assuaged when he jumped right in and said “So tell me about yourself. Where were you raised? Tell me about your family.” When Brian Mulroney shined his light on you —- it was a glow to be remembered.

As I write this, I am flooded with warm recollections. Here are two that stand out.

Shortly after his autobiography, MEMOIRS 1939-1993, was published in 2007, my doorbell rang in the middle of the day and there was Brian with a signed copy of his book. Here was a man who had played a pivotal role in ending the cold war in 1991, the man that Boris Yeltsin trusted more than any other western leader during those years of challenging change, the man who pursued a sweeping free trade agreement with our country, the list goes on and he was at my door, dropping off his book personally rather than mailing or sending someone else to deliver. That moment was yet another example of his unpretentious manner. I was so impressed by the hand delivery that I could barely eke out a hearty thank you. I told him my husband and I looked forward to reading the book and then he chuckled about the size of it —- 3.5 pounds and 1100 plus pages. I told him when I wasn’t reading it, I could use it as a free weight. “I’ll write another one,” he said, “so you’ll have a pair.”

A few years after receiving the memoir by hand. Brian dropped off another memoir of sorts that my husband and I cherish. This time it was a CD entitled BRIAN MULRONEY SINGS. Brian, you see, was blessed with a great voice. His duet with Ronald Reagan singing WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING has gone viral around the world — an iconic moment on the grand stage, two world leaders celebrating their Irish heritage and a stronger relationship between the U.S. and Canada. It was a lucky treat for the Palm Beachers who knew him that his birthday was “in season” on March 20th   because Brian sang at every birthday party Mila threw for him here. He called himself “a frustrated saloon singer.” As a result, Mila persuaded him to make a recording for his grandchildren so they would have a memory of his love of singing and music in years to come.  “Unlike a lot of other Canadians, they have never heard me sing,” he says in his introduction to the tracks.

Hearing it now, the CD has even more resonance. The playlist ranges from Irish Ballads to classics from The Great American Songbook.  I can’t help but feel that many of his choices were dedicated to Mila who was his anchor and soulmate. Never was the adage “Behind every great man is a great woman” more appropriate than it was for this couple. IT HAD TO BE YOU, YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, GLORY OF LOVE, is plainly more than a souvenir for his grandchildren: It is a love letter to Mila.

But what also strikes a chord in Brian’s song choice is a clear sense of how far he had traveled from his blue-collar roots in the tiny paper mill town of Baie-Comeau, Quebec. Brian was one of six children whose father was an electrician at the mill.  He recalled in an interview once that his father told him “That the way out of a paper mill was through the doors of the university.” After College and Law School, Brian joined a law firm where he carved out a prosperous career as a corporate lawyer and then successful business executive. All of which complimented his innate political skills. What followed was a meteoric rise through the ranks of Canadian politics and then the pinnacle of becoming Prime Minister.  And so, to listen to Brian sing WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD, YOUNG AT HEART, WHEN YOU’RE SMILING LET A SMILE BE YOUR UMBRELLA, I hear an appreciation of life, good fortune and gratitude.

And lastly no BRIAN MULRONEY SINGS album would be complete without a brilliant rendition of WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING. Brian Mulroney on behalf of those who cherished you in Palm Beach we will miss your hearty laughter, a voice as creamy as good Irish butter and your clear blue smiling Irish eyes. We hope you are looking down on us and know how much you were loved in our town.