What makes a man or woman remarkable?

Perhaps it’s excellence in a particular line of work, study or enterprise. Or, maybe one should be measured on his or her contribution to a healthy and caring community.

Regardless, the ultimate compliment one can give is usually associated with family because it is families that create inter-generational well-being, tradition and hope for the future. Great societies are rooted in strong families, vibrant communities and a sense that we are all pulling together toward common goals.

The passing of Jean Beliveau signals not only the passing of a hockey legend but the passing of an era when life was simpler, more respectful and more personal. Jean Beliveau strapped on his skates for the last time forty-three years ago when helped Les Habitants (the Habs) win the Stanley Cup over the heavily-favored Boston Bruins. It would be the 10th Cup of his amazing career.

But his winning ways didn’t stop there. He won an additional 7 Cups as an executive with the Montreal Canadiens for a total of 17, a feat that has little chance of ever being matched in any sport. Even in retirement he was the heart and soul of an organization known for its tradition and connection to the past.

The names that have led the storied Canadiens franchise are iconic: Howie Morenz, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Henri Richard and the glorious Guy Lafleur, but there’s only one that has been able to transcend what he accomplished on the ice. That, of course, is Jean Beliveau. Affectionately known as Le Gros Bill (the Big Man) Beliveau was a force to be reckoned with on the ice and a warm, friendly individual off the ice.

He was just as comfortable in the company of heads of state as he was in corporate boardrooms or on Main Street. Each person he met was treated with equal importance, regardless of status.

One of Beliveau’s passions was working with children, especially those with additional challenges. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the confidence he instilled in disabled children to live life as normally as possible.

Was he the most gifted player to ever play the game? Make no mistake about it, he was a very, very good hockey player, but not the best. Was he tough? Not really, but he was a big man so he wasn’t easily pushed around. Was he respected? Yes, immensely, both on and off the ice. Was he a leader? Of course he was – you don’t win 17 championships without leadership abilities. In short, he was the total package.

If words are a measure of what kind of a person one is, Jean Beliveau surely stands tall. Here are a few quotes that capture the essence of the man:

“No record book can capture, no statue can convey the grandeur of the remarkable Jean Beliveau, whose elegance and skill on the ice earned the admiration of the hockey world while his humility and humanity away from the rink earned the love of fans everywhere.”
Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

“He moved seamlessly and gracefully among people who worshiped the ground on which he walked, looking them in the eye, addressing them by name, thanking them for coming to see him.”
Vancouver Sun newspaper

“Was there ever a player blessed with more grace on and off the ice, a quiet leader who led by example?”
Red Fisher, Columnist
Montreal Gazette newspaper

“Jean Beliveau was a great leader and a gentleman, arguably the greatest ambassador this game has ever known. He was the kind of man you would want your son to be.”
Geoff Molson
President and Owner, Montreal Canadians

“He was graceful and powerful both on and off the ice. He set new standards in how we play hockey and set new standards of civility in how we conduct ourselves with one another.’’
David Johnston
Governor General of Canada

While we can’t expect all athletes to be role models for our young people I can’t think of many better examples of a life well-lived than that of Jean Beliveau.

He was invited to serve his country as Governor General and Senator by two different political parties. However, he was above partisan politics and chose not to accept either of these distinguished posts for family reasons. His daughter had recently been widowed and he placed greater importance on being a grandfather to two granddaughters than pursuing his personal ambitions. This was the type of man he was.

Adieu and rest in peace Jean Beliveau. Thank you for your life, your example and for carrying the torch of life with such style, grace and elegance. We graciously accept it back into our hands for the next leg of the journey.


Sign up for the MDR newsletter:

Recent Posts