When I was 18 years old and a rookie reporter for a newspaper called The Sunday Express, I was assigned to go to the old Montreal Forum and interview Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, who passed away December 2. He was vice-president of corporate affairs at the time, following a Hall of Fame career which saw him score 507 goals and add 712 assists over 20 seasons and 10 Stanley Cup wins. From this meeting onwards he always remembered my name.
|My last encounter with Jean Beliveau in April 2013.|
Just under two years ago I had a chance to visit with Jean at his South Shore condo for a video I was doing as a tribute to community leader Roy Salomon, an honouree at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast. Beliveau had accompanied Salomon twice to Israel for the Maccabiah Games. Beliveau successfully battled cancer more than a decade ago and was still recovering from a stroke when we visited.
“I should be gone,” he told me. “It is a miracle I am still alive. Right now I am affected by two things: a lack of energy and weak legs. Every morning I do 25 minutes on the treadmill. I force myself to do it so I can get going. I have been to a few Canadiens games this year, but I only have the strength to stay for the first period.”
I asked Jean about today’s NHL salaries, recognizing that with his star status he would have commanded at least $7 million a season. “The most I made was $100,000,” he laughed. “I guess I was born too early.”
I told Jean that my dad Larry had passed away seven month earlier. He apologized for not being aware. "Larry and I were from the same era," he said, remembering the many years my dad covered the Canadiens for local radio stations and United Press International.
|Yes that is me at the right receiving a trophy from Jean. Neil Denbow is the photographer.|
So close was my dad with Beliveau that he managed to have him attend the Côte Saint-Luc Minor Hockey Association Awards Banquet. Unlike today`s generation of players, he attended with pleasure and of course did not expect a penny in return.
On this day I think of the many Beliveau fans, notably my friend Cheryl Nashen. When I first met her some 25 years ago and we got talking about hockey it was all Jean Beliveau. She could often be seen around town wearing the fabled Canadiens number 4 jersey. On important family occasions, she even made attempts to invite him. She came close a few times.
There will never be another Jean Beliveau. That I am certain of. Rest in Peace "Le Gros Bill."
Here is a clip of a Beliveau goal.