TORONTO —; Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Joe Clark joined friends, government officials and family at a funeral for Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, in Toronto on Tuesday.
“My grandfather was simply a legend,” granddaughter Kassia told those gathered in the large mid-town Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.
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Taylor, who garnered international fame for helping six Americans escape Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, was remembered fondly by friends and family as much more than just his role in the incident.
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The 81-year-old died on Oct. 15 in New York after being diagnosed in August with colon cancer, his wife Pat by his side.
“He was a lot more than that, he was a true bon vivant, he was someone who was always graceful, he loved his friends —; his friends were very, very important to him —; and his family of course,” said Heather Chiasson, a close family friend.
“It was often brought up to him, but I don’t think I ever heard Ken bring it up as a subject of conversation he would talk about it when people asked but Ken was humble as well and a very proud Canadian.
“It was a proud moment for Canada.”
Clark recounted the crisis on that fateful day when Taylor’s telegram arrived at External Affairs, which recommended that Canada protect the six officials under threat in Tehran.
“Flora MacDonald was immediately advised and she brought that news to me, that news and that recommendation to me in the House of Commons, just as Question Period ended,” he said.
“We authorized the rescue, which Ken and Pat and their brave colleagues then carried out. Their conduct and courage earned the admiration of the world, yet it was a very Canadian thing to do.”
Taylor hid the Americans at his residence and at the home of his deputy in Tehran for three months. He persuaded Ottawa to issue them Canadian passports and arranged their plane tickets.
What became known as the “Canadian Caper” was the subject of a book and more recently the 2012 Hollywood movie Argo.
“We acted on principle, we acted in friendship and we acted quietly, professionally,” said Clark.
“Without doubt, as you’ve heard today, there was a fundamental joie de vivre about Ken Taylor. We loved it, most of us couldn’t keep up with it. One of my favourite photographs of all time is this curly-headed Canadian at the White House receiving the medal of honor from the very proper Ronald Reagan.”
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Pat Taylor, his scientist wife of 55 years, called him her best friend, confidante and adviser.
“He took everyone at face value and made many friends,” Taylor said.
In a clear, strong voice, she described him as compassionate and caring, someone who felt badly for his oncologists because they had been unable to do more for him.
After leaving Iran, Taylor moved to New York as Canada’s consul general. He was later invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Son Douglas said his father lived for the moment and had no time for regrets.
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“I miss you so much, it is heartbreaking,” Douglas said “But every time I think of you, I smile.”
After his death, American ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman hailed Taylor’s “valour and ingenuity” that earned him the Congressional Gold Medal.
Also attending the service was Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, former premiers Ernie Eves, Mike Harris and David Peterson, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“It’s remarkable the number of people who remembered him and had such admiration for him,” said Chiasson, adding that Taylor treated all people as equals.
“He had great respect for people. He wanted to know your name right away, he would call people by their name. And I think today, with people coming from all around the world, literally, Singapore, Mexico, London, California, Boston, all parts of Canada, it speaks to how people felt about Ken.”
With files from