'A person of real tenacity': Former governor general David Johnston reflects on Prince Philip's life and legacy
TORONTO -- Tributes have poured in across the globe highlighting the life and legacy of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died Friday aged 99.
Former governor general David Johnston was among the dignitaries sharing anecdotes and memories of the late prince, speaking to CTV News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme from Mont-Tremblant, Que. about his passing.
He said Prince Philip’s legacy will be his life of service and his great “like and respect” for Canadians.
Below is a transcript of their interview, edited for length and clarity:
Lisa LaFlamme: Sir, thank you so much for joining us on this important day to mark such a memorable life. I know as governor general, you had the privilege of many occasions with Prince Philip. Where did your most vivid memory take you today?
David Johnston: I think this sense of service of Prince Philip and what a rock he was to the Queen throughout their lifetime. You know, the notion of the servant as leader of servant is very much needed in our world today. He was the leader, a servant, not having to be in the centre stage, but ensuring the Queen was supported in her role and that he reinforced that role, and I think was so important in the success of the monarchy during her long tenure on the throne.
LaFlamme: The word consort though, it sounds so perfunctory and impersonal, but you saw that relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip so many times. What were they like together?
Johnston: They were remarkably human and they're seen as very formal and formidable people, I think, from a distance. But we were struck by how kind they were to us and how comfortable they were with one another. We're very fortunate. Lisa, the custom is that when you're named as governor general, you go and present your credentials to the Queen, and she gives you the certificate, which indicates that you begin your duties.
We came to a Rideau Hall on Oct. 2, 2010, but it was the previous August where were invited to go to the U.K. and we were delighted to learn that we'd be going to Balmoral Castle in Scotland because that's where they spent August, and we went with every stitch of formal clothing you can imagine and Sharon with mainly high heeled shoes. And it was totally informal.
One story just to illustrate how down to earth they were -- we were sitting at the Friday night dinner and Sharon and the Queen were planning to spend the morning, Saturday morning in the stables. They both love horses and Sharon looked down at her feet and the prince looked down at her feet as well, and she said, ‘I don't have any proper shoes.’ And he looked at his wife's feet and kind of said, ‘Your shoes?’ She went up to her bedroom and came down with a pair of her brogues and Sharon put them on there at the table.
On the Saturday evening, we went for a barbecue, but four or five miles away from the Balmoral castle through the highlands, tiny little roads, hardly more than the width of a car. The Queen was driving her Land Rover, and Sharon was in the Land Rover with the prince driving, coming back at about 10 o'clock at night -- it was really black and dark and their car was ahead of us and it was weaving a little bit on this little path. And there were various laughter coming out as they were joking with one another. That was the wonderful kind of chemistry that Sharon had with Prince Philip, very much at ease and enjoying a lot of laughter and trading these trips back and forth.
LaFlamme: It's interesting to hear stories like that, so personal and as you say, so down to earth. He was also such a voracious reader and really an environmental campaigner before it was popular. Did you feel that you had so much in common with him?
Johnston: Well, he was very broad in his interests and his interests were very attuned to Canada. As I think you've mentioned a few times today, he made over 70 visits to Canada, which is really quite remarkable, even given his long tenure. He really had a respect and a liking for Canadian people.
I suppose it was due to a number of things. One, I think he had more freedom here to be himself due to his connection with the military being so strong. He had held over 40 Royal patronages, probably a dozen or so of those being Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Regiment, for example… And on several occasions he was here for Royal Canadian Regiment ceremonies and he had a memory of the people he'd met before. It was a very personal thing to him, I think through his own military training and partly for his admiration for Canadians and their contribution to Commonwealth forces, especially during the Second World War, which he saw firsthand.
In October 2013, he became the first extraordinary companion of the Order of Canada, our highest honour. He desired a better country for Canadians, so I think involved in working towards that and sort of cheering us on -- in his inimitable way, he also seemed to manage to maintain independence while never assuming centre stage.
LaFlamme: Would you agree that is not an easy lane to walk?
Johnston: I think it's quite remarkable, especially because he was there in his own right, a forceful personality, a person of real tenacity, and came from very challenging circumstances, and saw disruptions of government that were very, very fundamental.
But he served in his role quite remarkably. That's why I come back to this really important notion of the leader as a servant, that there are various ways of serving. He found his way, which was ‘I do not have to be centre stage.’
LaFlamme: This is such a great loss for her, such a love story. What are your thoughts for her today?
Johnston: My heart goes out to her. He has been such a rock in her life, as she describes it from a very young age, and seeing with her so many challenges of history, difficult circumstances and managing always to be steady, to be thoughtful, to be caring and recognizing that duty requires very often a stiff upper lip and a pretty firm backbone. He was a large part of that stiff upper lip and firm backbone.
LaFlamme: These are such challenging times for the world right now and certainly for Canadians. Are there lessons in a loss like this after a life of duty and service, as you put it, in a life well lived?
Johnston: Well, I'm particularly struck by the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Lisa, which he began in the 1950’s, and it's one of the few sort of youth organizations that has been truly sustainable and actually continues to be on a trajectory upwards in terms of embracing people.
It's been very strong in Canada in the last 20 years and has reached out into the public high schools, into the northern communities, into the reserves, into the rangers, in the Arctic territories. and present in most of the Commonwealth countries. But to my great surprise, also present in probably another 50 or so countries beyond the Commonwealth countries -- not always bearing the name Duke of Edinburgh, but the basic structure and the objectives being the same, and that is helping young people develop their character, their own leadership qualities, their self-reliance, recognizing that mental and physical health go hand in hand and having a sense of … helping others and serving their community, a wonderfully important civic virtues.
That for him was really important, it's been a legacy for Canada that will continue to be very important as we care about our youth and how they develop to be leaders and unselfish people in their own right. That, for me, will be one of the continuing legacies that I think will continue to inspire in very real ways.
LaFlamme: That's a powerful legacy. The Right Honourable David Johnston. Lovely to see you again and thank you so much for your thoughts on Prince Philip tonight.
Johnston: Thank you, Lisa. Good to be with you.