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A hole lot of hugs

Nurturing comes naturally to Alberta's new lieutenant governor
by Phoebe Dey

"The attention you get, my goodness sakes, it's quite amazing ... and the protocol ... everything I go to, there's somebody with me," gushes Alberta's new lieutenant governor.

On this mid-February day, Her Honour Lois Hole is fielding calls from her St. Albert home, a stone's throw from her family's greenhouses that have spawned a gardening empire with a national profile. A wheelchair perchcs inside the hallway of her elegant, yet inviting home. Art lines the walls and fills the spacious rooms. Hole's voice is audible from the front entrance and becomes louder as a housekeeper leads the way to the study where the Queen's representative in Alberta hangs up from a phone call with her legislative secretary.

Hole, who will remain chancellor of the University of Alberta until a successor is installed in June, turns off the blaring television and pulls a wool blanket over her bruised and swollen heel, which she broke after a stumble at a Faculty of Business event. For a wounded woman whose previous few weeks consisted of being sworn in as a Queen's representative and reading the province's throne speech, she is calm on this Friday afternoon stretched out on a sofa. Her down-to-earth, yet energetic, personality is what people love about Hole, who could often be found in her greenhouse shaking hands, dispensing her famous hugs, and offering large portions of her familiar small-town Saskatchewan charm. But since she heard Prime Minister Jean Chretien's voice on the phone, telling her he would like her to be Alberta's next lieutenant governor her agenda has changed.

"Friends are always teasing me and asking `should we curtsy in front of you,"' she says, in a voice roughened by what she blames on too much yelling and cheering as a child." But they know it's the position, the office. It's not me. They understand and want to be correct"

The University's new chancellor will be installed at the last convocation in June, and Hole relishes the opportunity to preside at convocation until then. "I find convocation just so wonderful and being with all the students ... I have just loved it," she says, enthusiastically. "At least I will feel better having done this last one, and then I am planning as much as time will allow to attend as many convocations as I can as lieutenant governor."

Hole will miss being chancellor and says it was an honour just to be asked to put her name up for that position.

A personal goal for Hole as chancellor was to "bring the university to the people." If the community knows about the institution, she rationalizes, it makes it that much easier to get support from the public. She plans to continue to promote education as lieutenant governor. "Now I'll just have to be sure to include all the universities, instead of just U of A."

Hole wishes her late father were here to witness the flurry of activity that has soaked up her life over the last few years. Of all people, she says wistfully, he would have been the proudest.

"That's probably what hits me more about everything when I think of walking around in rubber boots and mud up to here," she indicates an imaginary line about a foot off the ground. "And all the weeding I've done and the carrots I washed and helping my husband seed. It goes back to the basic things and working with good people and when you do that your feet are right on the ground and you lose all pretense of being somebody you aren't. Things don't go to your head. I only have to look back and I know who I am and I know who I'm not."

Although her daytimer is quickly filling up, Hole relishes time with her husband, two sons and their families. Her NEW morning routine is also an important part to her day. At 5:30 a.m., CBC Radio wakens her and she lies in bed listening for half an hour. She is also an avid watcher of television news and prefers her garden to the kitchen ("I make a good roast beef but I tried duck a Porange once and it didn't go over well").

But for all her accolades and accomplishments, Hole has always had one wish. "Of all the things, I would have loved to have done was to have had a beautiful singing voice," she says, citing stars such as Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson as two of her favorites.

Who knows? With her verve and hard work, a role on Broadway for Alberta's lieutenant governor might yet be in the works. Certainly, not even that accomplishment would surprise those who know her best.

Published Spring/Summer 2000.

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