Jean Beliveau died last night at 83. One of the great hockey players of his era, he was also one of the finest gentlemen of this era. Not only is this what everyone says of him, but I have independent evidence. Once I was talking to a manual worker at a hotel. I wasn’t staying at the hotel but at a private “villa” across the road from the hotel. The owners of the villa had made an arrangement whereby we could walk through the hotel and use their beach. This guy was in charge of the deck chairs. He was a typical black Bajan (Barbadian) and, when he discovered I lived in Montreal, he mentioned that Jean Beliveau owned a villa along the same row we had rented. He started talking about what a fine person Jean was and then told me that Jean had paid the way for this guy to take a vacation in Montreal and stay chez Beliveau! The point is that he didn’t just befriend the rich and famous, but also the humble.
I was once about 10 feet from Beliveau at the departure lounge in the Barbados airport, but I was too diffident to introduce myself (but I saw a number of people do just that).
I was searching things on Jean and Barbados and came across your post. Its great to read this as my grandparents owned the unit beside Jean and they were friends for many years.
My grandmother was in a care facility for many years in MTL and Jean always make sure to call her just to chat and see how she was doing. A great person was lost yesterday.
There are a handful of all-time greats in every sport who SEEM to have been universally beloved. Stan Musial was one, and Jean Beliveau is another.
Here’s an interesting link from a Toronto sportwriter:
Summary: as a young writer, the author needed to get a quote from Beliveau. He asked a colleague, “How do I get hold of Jean Beliveau?” To his surprise, the answer was “Look him up” He actually had a listed phone number! He’d answer his own phone and would gladly talk to almost anyone who called!
Keith Olbermann compared Beliveau to Joe Dimaggio, but with the difference being that Beliveau “had modesty and a sense of humor.” Which is kind of like saying that Gandhi was just like Stalin, except less prone to violence.
I can’t think of a good comparison in another sport. Beliveau was beloved in Quebec and to Habs fans anywhere; in most of Canada, which for most of his career was Leafs territory, he was as a player comparable to Derek Jeter, a guy who played for the hated favourites, the titanic superteam that just won year after goddamned year, but while you might have hated his teammates you could not hate Beliveau personally; like Jeter (or Musial, or Tim Duncan, or Joe Montana) he seemed to exude an honesty in his excellence, a classiness that made you admire him whatever your team’s colors.
After his retirement, though, Beliveau continued to exude class. He was a man of rare dignity and savoir faire who was the face of the franchise and of hockey, an ambassador of the game.
In a time when so many sports heroes are determined to disappoint us, it’s nice to be reminded that we had one who did not.
Rick, what makes Dimaggio interesting is that, while he was a cold, mean, surly prick who didn’t trust anyone and didn’t have any close friends, he KNEW that he was regarded as a wholesome, classy, all-American hero, and that image was extremely important to him.
He worked very hard to live up to his saintly image publicly, while treating family, teammates and associates like crap in his private life.
He was as big a jerk in real life as Barry Bonds ever was, but unlike Barry, Dimaggio wanted love and admiration. He knew what his fans wanted him to be, and he did everything he could to LOOK like that guy whenever anyone was watching.
As I noted, Stan Musial is one of the few sports icons who seemed to be as genuinely kind, warm and classy as Jean Beliveau.
Another who seems to fall in this category is Arnold Palmer.