Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Governor General David Johnston and wife, Sharon, and dog, Rosie, leave following a ceremonial tree planting to commemorate the end of his mandate at Rideau Hall in Ottawa Thursday.

Johnston says goodbye after seven years as GG

OTTAWA — As he prepares to return to private life after seven years as Governor General, David Johnston is being toasted as a warm and genial man of the people who connected deeply with Canadians.

Johnston’s term ends Monday, when former astronaut Julie Payette is to be sworn in.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s known Johnston since childhood and has always considered him a “man of strength and intelligence and compassion,” an athlete and an academic dedicated to education and lifelong learning.

Working with him since becoming prime minister two years ago, Trudeau says he’s also come to know Johnston as a “man of integrity who embodies the principles for which our country stands.”

As a parting gift, the federal government is donating a $3 million grant and up to $7 million in matching funds over 10 years to the Rideau Hall Foundation, a charity Johnston founded to promote equality of educational opportunity, invest in Canadian innovators and foster more volunteerism.

For his part, Johnston says it’s been an honour to serve Canada.

“Serving as Governor General is a responsibility I have cherished for the past seven years,” he said during a farewell ceremony Thursday in Parliament’s Hall of Honour.

“I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to give back to this country I love so much.”

Earlier Thursday, Johnston’s name was immortalized in the cornerstone of a new tourist welcome centre on Parliament Hill that is slated to open next year.

At the ceremony, Trudeau had particular praise for Johnston’s ability to connect “in deeply meaningful ways” with Canadians. Johnston’s example is a reminder of how important it is to maintain a strong connection with people from all walks of life, he added.

Trudeau also praised Johnston’s wife, Sharon, for her own “incredible” public service over the past seven years.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I need to express my deepest gratitude to their excellencies for their many, many contributions to Canada. Together you’ve made this country a better place to call home.”

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