Beaton Tulk, former N.L. premier and longtime Liberal campaigner, dead at 75

Fred Hutton/CBC

Beaton Tulk, a teacher and backroom organizer who made his way to the highest office in Newfoundland and Labrador politics, has died. 

Tulk died early Thursday morning. He turned 75 the day before.

Brian Tobin hand-picked Tulk to succeed him as Liberal leader and thus premier in October 2000, when Tobin bolted from the premier's office for a return to federal politics. 

"There was only one guy I could think of that everybody would trust, everybody would listen to. That guy was Beaton Tulk," Tobin said Thursday of his friend for 40 years.  

Tulk ran the government for four months, while the party underwent what proved to be a divisive leadership campaign. Roger Grimes wound up winning the race, defeating John Efford and Paul Dicks. 

Tulk quit his seat in 2002 for an unsuccessful run in a federal byelection. When he ran in the byelection for his old provincial seat — in effect aiming to replace himself in the House of Assembly — he lost to Tory Harry Harding. 

He fought a lengthy battle with prostate cancer, which was first diagnosed 15 years ago. 

After working as a teacher and principal, Tulk jumped to elected politics in 1979, representing the former district of Fogo.

Submitted by Bob Gosse

Roughly five weeks ago, Tobin and other longtime friends and Liberals got together for wine and Chinese food with Tulk. 

"We laughed for three hours. We finally had to say, 'It's time for us to go.' And Beaton said to me as we were leaving, 'Brian, thank you. I never thought I'd get to enjoy my own wake, it was a lot of fun,'" said Tobin.

'A political giant'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Tulk's public service.

In a statement, the first since the election last Thursday, Premier Dwight Ball said the province "lost a political giant."

"Beaton Tulk was a friend and a true Liberal. His unwavering devotion to this province will live on, not only in our memories, but in his many contributions through his service to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," Ball said. 

He praised Tulk's sense of humour, passion, loyalty and tenacity. 

Ball said the flags will fly at half-mast at Confederation Building and other provincial buildings.

He was larger than life, both in stature and style. - Roger Grimes

Former premier Danny Williams said he and Tulk became good friends over the years. 

"While we may have been on opposite sides of the political aisle, he was someone I very much admired and respected," Williams said in a statement. 

"I will personally remember him as someone whose public service had a great impact on our province; his legacy will be a lasting one."

People who want to pay their respects to Tulk  can do so on Friday in the foyer of the House of Assembly. 

An advisory issued late Thursday afternoon said his family will be there, in addition to his cremated remains, and a book of condolences will be available to sign. 

Met Smallwood years before becoming premier

Years before Tobin picked him for premier, Tulk had a brush with the premier's office when he made his way to the eighth floor of Confederation Building and was able to convince legendary premier Joey Smallwood to help him get a job at Churchill Falls, the hydroelectric project that was then under construction. 

In a 2018 interview with CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Tulk said he never thought he would call the premier's office home, even when he was an MHA. 

It was "never a job that I wanted," said Tulk.

In this video from 2000, Beaton Tulk was blunt about his (non) leadership aspirations.

A hardscrabble campaigner with an old-school approach to politics, Tulk sometimes found himself in hot water. In 1991, he was caught in a hiring scandal that also implicated Efford. Having been defeated in the 1989 election, Tulk was appointed as an assistant deputy minister in the Department of Social Services, and helped leak job interview questions to one of Efford's campaign workers. 

Tulk, though, always remained popular with Liberal colleagues. 

Last June, he received a standing ovation at the provincial Liberal convention. 

A Man of His Word, A Memoir

Roger Grimes, who took over as premier from Tulk after winning the Liberal leadership, said Tulk was simply "an outstanding human being."

Grimes said Tulk had a gruff manner, but it was one of his most endearing qualities. 

"A whole bunch of us used to call him 'billy goat gruff' because he had that manner about him. He was larger than life, both in stature and style," Grimes told CBC News on Thursday. 

"But anyone who got to know him knew that was a facade that Beaton put on.… Inside there was the biggest pussycat you ever saw, because he had a heart of gold."

In 2018, Tulk published A Man of My Word: A Memoir, recounting his career in public life. 

In an interview last year, he described how fortunate he felt to have grown up in the community of Ladle Cove, near Musgrave Harbour. 

"I always believed I always grew up in a cocoon where everybody took care of everybody. There were no roads, there was no electricity, there was no television.… It was just a beautiful place."

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