Richard Marz had his future all planned out in 1997 after a long career as a Kneehill County councillor and reeve.
After 17 years in municipal politics, he was going to spend more time on the family farm in the Three Hills area, working the land, while gradually easing into retirement.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Before he could put his plan into action, friends and supporters — even his wife Jan got in on it — suggested he might make a good MLA for the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills riding, recently redrawn after boundary changes.
Marz won handily as a Progressive Conservative in the 1997 election and hasn’t looked back since, winning three more times.
Now 67, he has decided to blow the dust off that long-on-hold retirement plan. He announced recently he doesn’t plan to run in the next election.
The former deputy speaker and chairman of numerous government committees decided to announce he was not running well in advance of any election call to make sure he gave potential successors lots of time to make up their minds and allow them to use the summer barbecue and fair season to meet constituents. A spring 2012 election is likely if past practice is followed, but the decision will be up to the party’s new leader, to be chosen this fall.
Born and raised on a farm in Three Hills, Marz went into the oilpatch as a young man.
“That’s how I’d spend my winter months to finance my farming habit. That’s how a lot of farms got bought and paid for in the ’50s and ’60s.”
Heck, at $3.52 per hour, he felt rich. When he got his first raise to almost $4 an hour, he bought a brand new car. The price tag — $3,500.
In 1969, Marz also had a brief stint as a Calgary police officer. But he was on the job less than a year when his father got ill with cancer and asked him to come back to take over the farm.
Later, he was invited along to a meeting at Kneehill County by a friend. His interest tweaked, he was soon running for and winning a seat on council, a success he repeated many times.
Marz said he decided to run for provincial office because Alberta was at a difficult time financially and as a fiscal conservative he wanted to support former premier Ralph Klein’s call to pay off the debt.
“I knew it was going to be quite a struggle to bite the bullet and stick to our guns and try to get the debt paid off and I supported Ralph Klein in doing that.”
While Klein’s achievement has been widely recognized, Marz also credits Premier Ed Stelmach for not giving in to pressure to spend every nickle on building new infrastructure, insisting on ensuring there was money left in the sustainability fund to safeguard against a dip in the economy.
“Because we did that we survived this recession in much better shape than any other jurisdiction I can think of.”
Marz said it will be up to others to judge his success as an MLA, but he has no regrets for the positions he took. “I can look in the mirror and say no matter how tough it was, I took the position that was always the responsible one and not necessarily the popular one. And I’m very comfortable with that.”
As far as being honoured with his name on a school or public building, Marz wants none of that. He would rather people understand that he treated all parts of his constituency equally.
Asked what he plans to do in retirement, Marz chuckles, “Anything I want.”
First up will be a little deferred maintenance on the farm.
He and wife also plan to follow some of their friends south for some of the winter months for the first time. “I thought it might be nice to shorten the winter rather than sit in committees in Edmonton,” he said.
Retirement also means he will have time to ride his horses. He bought a new young horse last year and rode him a little in the fall but hasn’t been back on him since.
“I think I’ll be taking him up to a neighbour who’s a trainer and let him see if there are any surprises in him that an old guy like me doesn’t want to encounter. Then we’ll see if we can get some time this summer to take him out to the mountains to see how he works out there.”
In what little spare time Marz has had over the years, he has relaxed by working on horse-drawn vehicles and cars. He is putting the finishing touches on an old sleigh and has a rare 1988 ASC McLaren Mustang — one of only 1,806 made — he is sprucing up, among others.
He also plans to spend more time with family, including a son and daughter and four grandchildren in Lacombe and Calgary.
Marz doesn’t want to leave without giving credit to the many people who work hard behind the scenes in municipal and provincial governments who don’t get the recognition they deserve. Working with them was a privilege, he said.