MONTREAL - Brian Mulroney's three sons say there's no doubt their father would have been thrilled by this week's public tributes honouring his life.

“He would have loved it. He is smiling down right now,” Mark Mulroney said in an interview with his two brothers.

“People coming down to tell his sons how great he was? He would have liked that,” added Ben Mulroney, as the other two laughed in agreement.

On Friday, for a fourth consecutive day, Mulroney's sons Ben, Mark and Nicolas stood alongside their mother, sister and other family members to greet the steady stream of people who came to pay respects at their father's casket.

The body of the former prime minister lay in repose for a second day in Montreal's St. Patrick's Basilica, after it lay in state for two days in Ottawa where it was visited by the prime minister, other dignitaries and the public.

Nearly every visitor during the past four days - dignitary and member of the public alike - has been greeted by the Mulroney family with a handshake, hug, and a thank you or quick chat.

In an interview at the church on Thursday alongside his brothers, Mark Mulroney said the decision to spend four long days greeting people came from a desire to support their mother, Mila Mulroney, who didn't want to leave her late husband's side.

“My mom heard there were people waiting out in the cold and she said, 'Well, I'd like to greet them,' and it just kind of happened organically that way,” he said.

He praised his mother as the “pillar” of the family, adding, “she is just so strong.” While it's hard to grieve publicly, he said, doing so has brought the family even closer.

“If there's one thing that's really stood out right now, it's that we get to be together as a family going through this,” he said.

Nicolas Mulroney said the week has been emotional but that he and his brothers feel energized after hearing so many stories from Canadians about how his father impacted their lives.

“I've told people that since his passing, his legacy has given me a superpower,” he said. “While grief comes in waves, what I have experienced personally by the people that have come through the door has just been absolutely powerful and I'll be forever grateful.”

Brian Mulroney, who died Feb. 29 at age 84, left behind a long legacy as prime minister, which stretched from 1984 to 1993. That included the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico during his time as prime minister, his participation in fight against South African apartheid, the 1991 acid rain accord, and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.

Over the past week, the Mulroney family heard a lot of stories about their father, and have a few thoughts of their own about his legacy.

Mark Mulroney, for one, hopes his father will inspire more people to consider a career in public life.

“My dad talked to every single politician from every single party, all the time, he was there for everybody,” he said. “As people look at that, I think people should know what a noble calling it was and how much he gave himself to do the job.”

Nick says his father's example shows that “Canada is a place where possible can happen.”

“Just because you started out as a poor boy on the North Shore in Baie-Comeau (Quebec) doesn't mean that that's where you're going to end up,” he said. “And he worked really hard. And Canada is a great country and he showcased exactly what you can do in this country.”

A state funeral is set for Saturday at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica, with eulogies from Mulroney's daughter Caroline, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Ben Mulroney said the funeral will include a cross-section of people who knew his father in politics, business and in his personal life. There will be music, and hopefully some funny, human moments to help hold off tears, he said.

“You're also going to see 16 grandkids running around,” he said. “It's going pretty impressive.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.