Gene Zwozdesky, former Edmonton member of the legislative assembly and house speaker, died of cancer Sunday at the age of 70.

Zwozdesky moved from a career of teaching, and writing and playing music, to politics in the 1990s.

In 1998, he left the Liberal Party and soon joined the governing Progressive Conservatives before being made a cabinet minister in 2001. Over the years, he covered many portfolios, including health and education.

“I’m sure there’s people that would probably disagree with this decision or that one, but in terms of the man himself, the human being, there’s lots to like and nothing to dislike about Gene,” said Ric McIver, United Conservative Party Calgary-Hays MLA. “He was a fine, fine human being.”

The politician was made speaker of the legislative assembly in 2012. He entered the seat with a promise to improve decorum in the assembly, saying in 2015, “I like to allow as much freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which people died for so that you would have it—but not so that you would abuse it.”

Zwozdesky was known for his humour and showmanship, at times serving as a minor hockey referee or performing at charity events. He was also the executive director of the Alberta Cultural Heritage Foundation and of the Alberta Ukrainian Canadian Centennial Commission, and was active with numerous organizations including the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Alberta Folk Arts Council and Edmonton Heritage Festival Association.

McIver called working with Zwozdesky as infrastructure minister a pleasant experience.

“Gene actually lived for the Speaker’s role. He loved it. He was good at it. Everybody liked him. And he was Mr. Congeniality,” McIver said.

“He was conversant in so many cultures and languages and traditions, and tried to make everybody that came through the Legislature feel welcome.”

With files from Bill Fortier