ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Edward Roberts, a cabinet minister under Newfoundland and Labrador's first three Liberal premiers and the province's 11th lieutenant-governor, died Friday at the age of 81.
As news of Roberts's death spread Friday, politicians across the province issued messages of condolence and respect for his legacy and his decades of service fighting for the people of the province.
"Every responsibility he undertook, he discharged with great competence, great integrity and great dedication," said Clyde Wells, who was premier from 1989 to 1996. Roberts served in his cabinet in the early 1990s.
"I will miss him greatly as a friend, and as a person I would fairly frequently have a pleasant discussion with, either on the phone or in person," Wells said in an interview. "I'm going to miss that, and him, very much."
Roberts began his political career in the early 1960s, and was soon enlisted as the executive assistant to then-premier Joey Smallwood, who had led the march for Newfoundland's confederation with Canada in 1949. Roberts was first elected in 1966 and was part of Smallwood's cabinet until 1972, when Smallwood resigned and the Progressive Conservatives took power in the provincial legislature for the first time.
"He made great contributions, in my view ... in the latter years of the Smallwood era," Wells said. "When Mr. Smallwood was still premier, he was relied upon by most people to make sure the government didn't go too far astray." Roberts also oversaw the implementation of the provincial health-care system during those years.
After Smallwood resigned, Roberts served as leader of the Liberal opposition before leaving politics for the first time in 1985. Four years later, as Wells was preparing to run for premier, he asked Roberts to make a comeback.
"I knew of Mr. Roberts's great abilities, his great sensitivity to the needs of people," Wells said. "He would have been just a superb cabinet minister, so I specifically sought him as a candidate."
Roberts turned him down — but he didn't hold out for too long. When Wells approached him again in 1992 to be his attorney general and justice minister, Roberts agreed. He won a 1992 byelection in the Labrador district of Naskaupi, and was re-elected there a year later.
"He was greatly admired and his reputation was found all over the province," Wells said, noting that they were easy wins for Roberts.
Wells retired in January 1996 and was succeeded as leader and premier by Brian Tobin. Roberts served in Tobin's cabinet briefly before retiring later that year.
He was lieutenant-governor from 2002 to 2008, and he was a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In a news release Friday, Premier Andrew Furey said Roberts was "one of the province’s most well-known and respected legal professionals and politicians." He said flags at provincial government buildings will be flying at half-mast.
“The province has lost a remarkable person in Ed Roberts," Furey said. "On a personal note, I turned to Ed for sage advice and enjoyed lively conversations about our province with him."
On Twitter, federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, who worked as an assistant to Roberts when he was justice minister, said his former boss was a great man.
"To work for him was the greatest education," O'Regan wrote. "He demanded a lot, but he gave so much. He loved this place, utterly."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2022.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press