By J.W. Schnarr
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Those who loved and knew former Conservative MP Jim Hillyer best came together to love, laugh, and celebrate the life of the man Friday morning at the Raymond LDS Stake Centre.
Among the hundreds in attendance were some of the most prominent conservatives in the country, including former prime minister Stephen Harper and current interim Conservative Party of Canada leader Rona Ambrose.
Fred Hillyer, Jim’s older brother, said his family has been impressed and grateful for all the support they have received.
“There are so many people, we could never even thank them all,” he said. “People have had food show up at their houses, and people have shown up to clean houses, and people from everywhere have expressed well wishes and support.
“They’ve been very gracious.”
Former MP Rick Casson, Jim’s predecessor in the Lethbridge riding prior to retiring in 2011, said he was in “total shock” when he heard Jim had passed.
“You feel for a young family,” he said. “It’s pretty tough.”
Jim died of a heart attack while in Ottawa on March 23. From all accounts, he was a loving family man who left behind his wife, Livi, and their four children.
He was a one-term MP in the Lethbridge riding before winning the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding in the last election.
His political career was not without controversy, however. He was dubbed “the man who wasn’t there” by local media after he stopped attending campaign forums during the lead-up to his win in Lethbridge.
Those who knew him saw the passion he had for his life in politics.
“The day he won the nomination in Lethbridge was a proud one, not just for him, but for all of us,” Fred said.
“He never took it for granted, and he never lost that sense of awe and appreciation.”
Another important moment in his life came when he was dubbed ‘Aapii Stamiik’ (White Buffalo Bull Calf) by the Blackfoot Canadian Cultural Society in 2013. It is the name given to a protector, and it was a role Jim took seriously.
Jim came from a musical family, and Fred spoke about times spent singing a capella with the brothers, and how much Jim enjoyed those moments.
“Jim lamented that we hadn’t done that in a while,” he said, adding Jim talked about getting a chance to sing the next time they were all together.
Year’s before, they sang at Jim and Livi’s wedding. One of their songs was the 1967 Turtles hit “Happy Together.”
“It became their family theme song,” Fred said. “Whenever times were tough, the family would sing ‘Happy Together.’”
The song was so important, the family received special permission to perform it one more time with Jim inside the stake centre.
“It was important that we did sing,” Fred said. “And for Livi, it was important that it was that song.”
Jim battled through a number of health issues in his life. He fought off leukemia in 2003 and was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant from his brother Dan. In 2013, he suffered a badly broken leg and had multiple surgeries to deal with infection and other issues. But no matter how bad things became, Fred said his brother would not dwell on sorrows.
“He always chose to laugh during those laugh or cry moments,” Fred said.
Dan compared Jim’s life to that of David and Goliath, in that he faced his challenges head on and became a better man for it.
“Jim took his preparatory trials by the beard and smote them,” Dan said. “And then he ran toward his true destiny.”
Fred described his brother as having an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. He also developed a deep sense of right and wrong, often acting quickly to defend people against what he saw as injustice in the world.
But Jim’s great weakness was kittens, according to Fred. When their mother was raising kittens, Jim would often come home just to spend time rolling around with them on the floor. At one point, a number of kittens became sick and Jim spent three days feeding them hourly with a syringe.
Jim’s mission with his church took him to Quebec and Ontario, Fred said Jim quickly became known as the hardest working missionary in the area, often skipping meals in order to continue working. He passed these values on to his children.
“He always helped other people, with little regard for himself,” Fred said.
At the end of the service, the Hillyer brothers came together one last time, so happy together and grieving, to sing Jim’s family anthem one last time.
And through their voices, a playful song of unrequited love became a mournful hymn of goodbye. And it was incomplete, because one voice was missing.