Born In: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Passed in: Coxheath, Nova Scotia, Canada
Passed on: August 31st, 2011
Cape Breton has lost one of the giants from its political life Senator Robert Muir age 91, died early on Wednesday morning August 31st 2011, at home. He was elected eight times in federal general elections 1957, 58, 62, 63, 65, 68, 72, and 1974. He served another 15 years in the Senate of Canada, as well as having been a member of the Miner’s Hospital Board, Harbour View Hospital, 1944-58.
He leaves his wife Mary (King), his true love; son, Robert and his wife Gail, their children Robert and Catherine; son, Gary and his wife Beverley, their children Robert Alexander (Sandy) and Lindsey; daughter, Ruth MacKinnon and her husband Ken, and their daughter, Lauren; his nieces, Isabel MacKenzie and Helen (Eldon) Critchley.
He was predeceased by his brothers John, Jim and Stewart Muir; sisters, Annie and Jean. Senator Muir was the last surviving member of his immediate family. His mother, Helen ‘Nellie’ (Clark) Muir, whom he revered, was a proud Scot. His father died in 1920.
Senator Muir was born in Edinburgh and came to Canada at the age of 18 months. He left school at eighth grade and worked the mines of Bras d’Or and Florence, where he dug coal on his hands, knees and belly in what he termed “rat holes”. He was injured badly on two occasions, which prohibited him from returning to the mines, though he had been elected secretary of the local of the UMW. After he recovered from a broken back, Bob worked for Moore’s Electrical in North Sydney. He later studied for his license and sold insurance for London Life, prior to winning a contested nomination for the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1957. He was successful then by a slim majority and increased his majority through the years becoming the longest serving Cape Breton North Member of Parliament. He was in the House of Commons for 22 years and a Senator for 15 years. Senator Muir’s terms in Ottawa were only exceeded for Eastern Nova Scotia by his good friend Hon. Allan J. MacEachen.
The watchword in the life of Robert Muir was to help those who could not help themselves, to watch bloated government spending and to help his working class constituents. He delivered public works projects throughout his constituency from Dingwall to Sydney, assisted pensioners who were often pushed aside by bureaucracy, was equipped with the old Scots ethic of work not charity.
Senator Muir was a worker, learned his way at his mother’s knee and honed in the mines and through community service. He brought this science of duty to the House of Commons, while his fine wife Mary, and the family, served as a backup in the constituency when he was putting in long hours in Parliament. It was a good combination of representation that improved through the years and shored up his existence in Ottawa where work was Bob’s master and service his mistress. He avoided the cocktail circuit, being a Presbyterian teetotaler and was faithful in attending the Parliamentary sessions and committee hearings. He cultivated friendships with ministers and civil servants alike, always probing and receiving favours of assistance for the constituency. He was the first to initiate a constituency-wide door-to-door campaigning style that was his hallmark throughout his career in the Commons and Senate. In his first speech he became the official miners’ spokesman in the House and maintained that role until he retired from the senate in 1995. He abhorred pomposity and there were many MPs including some in his own party, who felt the lash of his union hall rhetoric.
He was a steadfast supporter of the Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker and their friendship grew over the years. Bob accompanied “the Chief” on many of his trips throughout Canada. Also, he was a loyal follower of the Nova Scotian Robert Stanfield, when he became leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1967. However, standing up for “Dief” was a passion when his leader had fallen on bad times in the mid-sixties. The big miner’s red hair should have served as a warning to more than one party member who challenged the Old Chief with epithets. Also, when he was asked to go to the Senate by then Prime Minister, Hon. Pierre Trudeau, he cleared his way by discussing the matter with Diefenbaker and national party leader Hon. Robert L. Stanfield and secured their approval.
But all in all Bob’s work, through his travels with committees, his greatest love was returning to Cape Breton and his constituents, where he campaigned tirelessly and sought to serve whoever made a request. He gloried in the label that he was “a constituency man.”
The Senator was inordinately proud when he was presented with his 60 year jewel by the Masonic order and had been a Shriner for over 50 years. He was proud as well of his affiliation with the Sydney Mines Legion and the Presbyterian congregations in North Sydney and Sydney Mines. In his youth he was a member of the Chalmers Jack Mission on the Tobin Road and was an active choir member. During his Parliamentary career Muir served on a Canadian delegation to the International Labor Congress at Geneva in 1966; headed the Canadian delegation to the 1962 NATO Conference in Washington; and was an organizer of a delegation of MPs and Senators to the Vatican in 1962.
When Bob was retiring from the Senate and was given many accolades by his fellow senators, Sen. Bob replied, “There’s not many who are able to hear eulogies while they are still alive.”
Visitation for Senator Muir will be held today (Friday) from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. in the W.J. Dooley Funeral Home, 107 Pleasant St., North Sydney. The funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Sydney Mines with Rev. Dr. Murdock MacRae officiating. Burial will follow in Lakeside Cemetery in North Sydney.
Memorial donations may be made to a charity of choice.
Online condolences may be sent to www.wjdooley.com.