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    'A person of immense energy'

    Few people knew Flora MacDonald as well as Professor Emeritus John Meisel did. After all, he’s the person responsible for bringing her to Queen’s University and Kingston, where she would eventually embark upon her trailblazing political career.

    [Flora MacDonald]
    Flora MacDonald worked at Queen's University before embarking upon her political career. (Supplied photo)

    Ms. MacDonald, the Member of Parliament for the riding of Kingston and the Islands from 1972 to 1988 and appointed Canada’s first Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1979, died Sunday in Ottawa at the age of 89.

    A close friend, Dr. Meisel says that Ms. MacDonald was a remarkable person and a standout politician.

    “She was a person of immense energy. She was just indefatigable,” he says. “She was a very public-spirited person. When she saw something in the public domain that needed to be done she went around and started doing it.”

    Dr. Meisel first got to know Ms. MacDonald as he researched the 1957 general election for a book. Ms. MacDonald worked as a secretary within the Progressive Conservative party and helped provide the information he requested for various research projects in following years. She was incredibly efficient and impressed him greatly, he says. He told her that if she ever needed a job he would find her a place at the university.

    Several years later and Ms. MacDonald took him up on his offer and Dr. Meisel, now the head of the Department of Political Studies, went to Principal James Alexander Corry and requested that an administrative position be created to allow him to focus more on academic work.

    Principal Corry agreed. It was a decision that would have a lasting impact on the Kingston community as well as Canadian politics.

    During her time at Queen’s, Ms. MacDonald proved popular and was a pillar of strength for the department.

    “She was marvelous. At that time we were having a lot of people arrive, graduate students, and they had to be found accommodation and she did all that,” Dr. Meisel says. “She wasn’t just a secretary. She was really kind of a departmental mother.”

    While she would remain a friend of Queen’s, Ms. MacDonald was destined for a grander stage and after being invited to take a year-long course at the National Defence College in Kingston, she returned to politics, claiming the Progressive Conservative banner for the riding and winning the 1972 election.

    She would then unsuccessfully contend for the party leadership in 1976 and when the party came to power under eventual winner Joe Clark in 1979, Ms. MacDonald would become the Canada’s first female Secretary of State for External Affairs. When the PCs returned to power in 1984 under Brian Mulroney, Ms. MacDonald was named Minister of Employment and Immigration and then Minister of Communications in 1986.

    Dr. Meisel says that one of Ms. MacDonald’s strengths was that she was always so well informed. The reason for that was a skill she learned during her secretary days.

    “She had a wonderful advantage – she knew how to take shorthand,” Dr. Meisel says. “So she always took notes wherever she went. She never missed or forgot anything because she kept notes. She told me that when she was a Cabinet minister she used to take shorthand notes during the Cabinet meetings for herself. So she was always much better informed than other people because she had all these records.”

    Flora McDonald’s funeral will be held this Sunday at 2 pm in Ottawa.