Everyone is talking about Charles King, reluctantly. The hesitation, or asterisk that comes attached to the tributes many in Ottawa are eager to offer stems from the concern that King himself never would have sought the praise or attention.
Dean Shaikh, senior director for regulatory affairs at Shaw Communications, said in an interview that it would drive his former colleague crazy if he knew about the conversation. Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt made the same point in a moving blog post Monday, and Liberal MP Scott Simms apologized after using his member statement in the House Wednesday to pay tribute to “our dear friend, Charles King.”
“He hated the spotlight and all the attention, which is exactly what I am doing here. Sorry, Charles,” Simms said.
King, 47, was vice-president of government relations at Shaw Communications, and a board member of the Government Relations Institute of Canada (GRIC), an organization he ran from 2008 to 2011. He died of cancer Monday morning. King had fallen ill again last year after successfully fighting the disease in 2002.
Originally from Sudbury, Ont., King moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University and stayed as a Hill staffer, working for Liberal MPs and at the party headquarters. He moved to government relations in 1996, working first with the Canadian Cable Television Association, then as a consultant at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, and finally at Shaw.
A public memorial for King will be held Friday in the Chateau Laurier’s Adam Room from 4-6 p.m., followed by a party at the Metropolitain Brasserie from 6-9 p.m. GRIC president Jim Patrick, a close friend of King’s who will be speaking at the reception, said in an interview they “made sure we had a room to accommodate all of his hundreds of friends.”
For all their ambivalence about the attention being showered on King this week, his friends and former colleagues remember a gregarious and often hilarious professional who performed when he was in the spotlight.
As GRIC president, King was called before the House ethics committee last year to testify about legislative changes to the Lobbying Act. At one point he was asked whether there should be a distinction in the act between economic lobbying for corporations and social lobbying for non-profits.
“We support the current definition [of lobbying],” King responded. “Let's be clear: lobbying is lobbying is lobbying. Whether I'm lobbying for donuts or I'm lobbying for tanks, it's lobbying. If you're being paid, the rules should be very clear."
Patrick said the donuts and tanks line is evidence of King’s famous sense of humour.
“He had this hilarious ability to take a minor, mundane inconvenience, like somebody riding a bike on the sidewalk, and blowing it up into this gale-force rant on the fundamental unworthiness of humanity,” Patrick said. “And he just turned it on and off. He was a man of extremes. He would go from the warmest, most gregarious guy you know, and then a waiter would put a steak down in front of him that wasn’t quite to his liking and he would condemn the chef and all of the chef’s descendants to the deepest pits of hell—for about 30 seconds, and then he would be back.”
Members of Ottawa’s GR community are remembering King for his candour, loyalty and reputation as a “straight-shooter.”
“The most important thing you need to know about Charles is how genuine he was,” Shaikh said.
Ensight Canada consultant Jacquie LaRocque said there was a very personal element to King’s candour. “[W]hen you hung out with Charles it was like hanging out with your dearest girlfriend who would tell you parts of what you wanted to hear but also and mostly what you needed to hear,” she said in a statement.
They’re also quick to point out that there was nothing partisan about his loyalty. While King was a life-long Liberal, said Hill and Knowlton Strategies consultant Elizabeth Roscoe, who worked with King at GRIC and on the Politics and the Pen committee, he wasn’t “hyper-partisan or caught up in labels. It really made his approach to government relations professional” and easy for politicians and fellow GR professionals, she said in an interview.
Patrick said King was an “expert at homing in on the absurdity behind the theatre of politics, but he did it without ever being disrespectful to the people or the process.”
In a statement, Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd said her office had many interesting discussions with King over the years. “I always appreciated his opinions and his passion on issues. This is truly a loss for the community," she said.
Andre Albinati, who worked with him at Earnscliffe, said King was able to cut through partisan divides and provide “clear-eyed insight” about anything from policy to political or career advice. King approached all his relationships in a transparent, real way, he said.
“I think that that’s a real talent within the GR profession and something that is extremely valuable,” Albinati said in an interview. “From a personal perspective, it was profound.”
LaRocque said King served as a “gut check” for her on a range of issues. “His [emotional quotient] was larger than most in our bubble; and he was authentic. Truly authentic,” she said in the statement.
Patrick said King introduced him to half the people he knows in Ottawa. Those introductions, he said, invariably involved King introducing both parties as “my good friend.”
“Charles was one of these people that only had good friends, and you saw that over the last few weeks when he was getting sicker and sicker,” Patrick said, calling the number of people asking after King and visiting him in the hospital heartening, especially to King’s wife, Kelly Mounce.
“He had a way of making people feel important to him because everybody was. You see the evidence of that this week,” Patrick said.
Shaikh said it was challenging to talk about King as a colleague because it’s more instinctive to regard him as a friend, and Albinati described him as part of the Earnscliffe family, which is grieving this week over the loss.
“One of the things about Earnscliffe is we work together, we play together and we argue together. It’s a loss to a member of our family,” he said.
Patrick, who took regular family trips with King to Barbados in addition to working together at GRIC and on similar regulatory files, said he would miss being able to talk to him every day, as was their custom.
“That’s going to be the biggest adjustment, is not having him there as a sounding board,” he said. "I miss him already.”
—With reporting by Mark Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This story has been updated