Random, informal and honest, this is 500 words.
As the world gathers to pay their respects to Jean Béliveau, I still find myself at a loss for words on how to describe my feelings about his life and his death.
So, to stay true to this piece I will be random, informal and honest about Jean Béliveau.
I was born 16 years after Le Gros Bill hung up his skates but he impacted my life in more ways than one. To me, he was hockey personified. The reason that I was and am drawn to Jean Béliveau as a role model and a hero is because he embodied all of the values that I hold in high value both in terms of sports and day to day life. He was respectful and he held his opponents in the same esteem as his teammates. Off the ice, nobody was irrelevant. He signed every autograph, shook every hand, took every picture.
In the sports world the word class has lost its meaning over the years but it started with Béliveau. He was what athletes and people everywhere should strive to be.
He was one of the best players in NHL history and in memoriam everyone is talking about how good of a person he was. That is a legacy to be proud of.
Béliveau has united us in grief and memory. That is greatness. He transcends rivalries, he is above the sport, a true legend.
I was fortunate enough to meet Jean Béliveau in passing at the Bell Centre years ago. I turned a corner and there he was, shmoozing with a security guard. I froze. I automatically approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. I introduced myself and told him the things that he heard a million times. He smiled, shook my hand we talked Habs for 30 seconds.
Several years earlier my grandparents were out for dinner at Gibby's in Montreal. They spotted Mr. Béliveau sitting at a table nearby and approached him. They explained that my brother, who was sick with the flu, was a huge Habs fan and it would make his day if he could call him and wish him well.
The phone rings at my house.
"Richard, one second someone wants to talk to you."
"Hello Richard? It's Jean Béliveau."
It's that quality that I admire in him. That genuine kindness that is so rare, so hard to find.
We should all live as Mr. Béliveau lived. Act how he acted. The world would be a much better place with more people like him in it.
A friend of mine Rob Elbaz summed it up perfectly on twitter: "The impact Béliveau had on people that never saw him play is probably as great as the impact he had on those that did"
He was the Montreal Canadiens, he is the Montreal Canadiens, he will be the Montreal Canadiens.
Rest in peace Gros Bill, you will be remembered forever.
That was 500 words.