Howard Pawley gave a damn.

The former Manitoba premier who spent the last quarter century living and teaching in Windsor, was honoured Saturday as a shining inspiration to countless students and aspiring do-gooders, and a relentless defender of anyone who needed it.

Hundreds gathered at the University of Windsor's Ambassador Auditorium to celebrate the life of former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.Hundreds gathered at the University of Windsor's Ambassador Auditorium to celebrate the life of former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.

“When he saw injustice, he did something about it,” said Jake Soderlund, Pawley’s friend and colleague in the University of Windsor’s political science department.

“What made Howard unique was he truly gave a damn about the world.”

Hundreds of people attended a memorial service Saturday at the University of Windsor to honour Pawley, who died Dec. 30 at age 81.

Pawley was the NDP premier of Manitoba from 1981 to 1988 and a driving force in the creation of that province’s public auto insurance system.

Following his political career, Pawley moved to Windsor in 1991 to teach at the University of Windsor. He retired from the university in 2000, but remained active in the community.

Among many post-retirement gigs, he was a member of the Windsor Public Library board of directors and helped the organization recover from a spending scandal in 2012.

Pawley also continued teaching occasionally when he was needed. University president Alan Wildeman said Pawley had a lasting effect on students and colleagues alike.

“We were lucky beyond measure to have him,” said Wildeman.

Wilf Innerd, a past board chair of Windsor Regional Hospital, called his cherished friend Pawley a “great Canadian” and spoke of his “glittering array of achievements and well-deserved honours.”

“Howard was a man who never shirked what he believed was his duty to serve,” said Innerd.

“He was truly a man of the people.”

That’s also how former Windsor-Tecumseh MP Joe Comartin remembers Pawley. He said Pawley was always happy to listen to people and even more eager to help them with their problems.

“He listened to people and he did something about it.”

Comartin said that regardless of the problem or controversy Pawley was stepping into, he always stayed positive.

“He brought a message of hope,” said Comartin.

“If we were active, if we got involved, we could solve those problems.”

No problem, or person, was too small for Pawley.

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, recalled how Pawley once took up the cause of an elderly woman who was barred from moving into a certain nursing home.

Sinclair said he told Pawley the nursing home operator refused to let the woman move in because she was Metis.

It wasn’t long after that, said Sinclair, that the woman had a place to live.

“He loved everybody and had time for everybody who wanted to talk to him,” he said.

Along with touting Pawley’s great achievements as a politician, Sinclair proudly called the man his best friend.

“He made me want to be a better person.”

Sinclair said he learned how to treat his own family by learning from the example set by Pawley.

“He defaulted to goodness.”

Charysse Pawley, his daughter, knows that better than anyone.

“Dad’s biggest passion was love of our mother and our family,” she said.

Shortly before his death, Pawley and his wife Adele spent their 55th wedding anniversary in the emergency room.

Charysse said she also spent a lot of time with her father in the hospital over the last six weeks of his life.

“His blue eyes would light up, and that beautiful smile, when we entered the room.”

Even in those last weeks, Charysse said, her dad continued teaching her about the importance of respect, humility and expressing love.

“His final words to us before he died were that he loved us.”

Published on: January 9, 2016, The Windsor Star