Only three small bouquets of red and white roses sat near the front of MacEachen’s casket as nearly 800 people crowded into Stella Maris in Inverness for a funeral of one of their own.
MacEachen, who helped usher in some of the country’s foremost social programs, died in hospital last week at age 96.
Rev. Bernie MacDonald, who led the service for the longstanding parliamentarian, said his friend once asked for a no-nonsense tribute that included the speaking of a few virtues and the singing of a few hymns before putting him into the ground.
“With all due respect Allan, we’re going to do a little bit more than that,” said MacDonald, drawing laughter from mourners seated on the wooden pews.
MacDonald said it was the MacEachen’s faith in God that motivated him to work long and tirelessly in setting up social programs that would benefit all Canadians.
As written in his recent obituary, MacEachen’s most satisfying and proudest achievements were the Medical Care Act in 1966 — which would become Medicare — the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and the Canada Labour Code.
It was due to MacEachen’s skilled and patient leadership that those programs shifted from concept into reality.
“Allan J. was wise and caring,” said MacDonald. “His main concern was always the well-being of his people. (He was) a man who touched all our lives, made them better for as having walked life’s path with us.”
As part of Tuesday’s service, a lone piper played outside as MacEachen’s casket was brought into the church for a traditional Catholic ceremony. There were also prayers spoken in Gaelic, as MacEachen was devoted to preserving the Celtic heritage of Cape Breton.
The Scottish folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme (Will Ye Go Lassy Go)” played gently on piano as the service drew to a close.
“He put you at ease. He was nice to talk to and discuss anything,” said friend John Dan MacIsaac, when asked what he remembered most about MacEachen. “He was a great supporter of the (Cape Breton) culture and he loved the music and he loved the style of the life around here.”
Eleanor McDaniel, who came to pay her respects to MacEachen, said the political giant was a good friend of her mother.
“They were always conferring in Gaelic and talking together,” said McDaniel. “Every year we had a ceilidh at Allan’s (place) up in Lake Ainslie. A very, very, lovely person. Always just so glad to see you and so happy and ‘Just come in and enjoy yourselves, have some good whiskey and music.’”
Former coal miner Don MacIsaac said he admired MacEachen for his principles and his service to his constituents.
“He was a tremendous representative,” said MacIsaac. “He will be remembered across Canada.”
Sworn into the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada in 1963, MacEachen would serve as a cabinet minister for Prime Ministers Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and John Turner. He held some of the most senior portfolios of economic, social and foreign policy.