The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, June 13, 1996

Obituary - George Hees

Consummate gentleman politician brought air of class to Commons

By Paul Schliesmann
Southam Newspapers

George Hees, former Tory MP, cabinet minister and war hero, died Monday in Toronto just seven days short of his 86th birthday.

The dapper, athletic politician with the military bearing served in the cabinets of prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney. He retired in 1988 after nearly 37 years in Parliament.

"He was a very colorful politician," said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. "I remember very well his exchanges with (former prime minister Pierre) Trudeau across the aisle. He was a good minister and a great public servant."

"We lost a friend, and esteemed Parliamentarian and proud member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada," said Tory Leader Jean Charest. "His many years of public service and contribution to Canada will be fondly remembered."

A funeral service will be held Saturday in Toronto.

Hees was born in Toronto on June 17, 1910. He was educated at Trinity College in Port Hope, Ont., the Royal Military College in Kingston, the University of Toronto and Cambridge University in England.

He won the Grey Cup as a linebacker with the Toronto Argonauts. He also was a decorated war hero, having been wounded by a sniper's bullet in 1944 during the Battle of Scheldt at Antwerp, Belgium. He was a major at the time.

His political career got off to a slow start when he lost his first bid for Parliament in 1945. But he triumphed in 1950, winning the Toronto riding of Broadview for the Conservatives. He became party president in 1953.

The knock against Hees on Parliament Hill was that he was a physical heavyweight but a mental lightweight.

"George proved them wrong," prominent Tory Senator Finlay MacDonald said on Tuesday. "His portfolio with Diefenbaker was that of minister of transport. And he did exceptionally well. Then he became, if I remember correctly, minister of trade and commerce, and that's where he really made his name."

He also gained some notoriety in the early '60s when his name came up as part of the Gerda Munsinger sex scandal that rocked the Diefenbaker government.

Munsinger was a German-born prostitute who got involved with associate defence minister Pierre Sévigny. Hees was criticized by a judicial inquiry for his dealings with Munsinger.

Hees and Diefenbaker had a falling out and the two became enemies. So Hees sat out the 1963 election.

But he returned triumphantly to Parliament in 1965, winning the Ontario riding of Northumberland, east of Toronto.

In the 1980s, Hees was appointed minister of veterans' affairs by Mulroney and later Canada's first minister of state for senior citizens, a portfolio many criticized as political patronage.

Hees, in his late-70s by that time, still tackled the job with great energy, putting in 10-hour days at his office.

In 1988, Hees decided not to run again.

He said in an interview at the time with the Citizen that he didn't want to be remembered as a frail old man sitting around the cabinet table.

Southam News

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