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Jean Beliveau died on Tuesday at the age of 83. The 13-time All-Star played in the NHL for 18 full seasons, during which he notched 1,395 points (regular season and postseason combined). He helped the Montreal Canadiens win 10 titles as a player and seven times as a front office man. As a result of his staggering success, his names appears a record 17 times on the Stanley Cup.
But if you ask the people who knew him on and off the ice, they will tell you these accomplishments are but a small part of the Jean Beliveau story.
BL: Despite his incredible athletic success, Beliveau is perhaps as well known for his philanthropic work. Tell us about his decades of service raising money for charity.
To watch [Beliveau] work with these young kids and to see these young kids flock to him was something incredibly special.Dave Stubbs, Montreal Gazette
DS: Well he certainly did. As he was nearing his retirement as a player in 1971, the Canadiens told him, "Look, we want to give you something. We want to do a special night for you." And he said, "Listen, if you guys want to organize a little something for me, that's fine. But if you raise any money at all, please, I want to create a foundation, and I want to put it to good use." They wound up raising more than $155,000 and they presented him with a giant check on center ice on April 9, 1971 at the Montreal Forum. Mr. Beliveau immediately put it into a foundation and over the years, he wound up donating finally more than $2 million to children's charities. He had a great soft spot in his heart for disadvantaged children, for physically-challenged children. To watch him work with these young kids and to see these young kids flock to him was something incredibly special.
BL: Jean Beliveau was 6-foot-3 -- pretty big for the time that he was playing — but you describe him in your piece as a sort of “gentle giant.” If that was the case, what accounts for his ability to thrive in the rough-and-tumble NHL of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s?
DS: Well it was pretty hard to hit what you couldn't catch. He had a very, very smooth stickhandling style. He was a wonderfully graceful skater. One of the things about his skating is that he was so graceful, and he made it look so effortless, that Montreal Canadiens fans, bless them, would boo Jean Beliveau on occasion because they thought he wasn't putting out enough effort. It didn't look like he was working hard enough. Well, the fact was that he was such a brilliant skater and could cover so much ground with few strides that he never really had to look like he was working that hard. And he certainly became an icon and very much the face of this organization for decades.
BL: Among the qualities that made Jean Beliveau such a huge star were his charm and his good looks. I need you to tell the story of Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall and his starstruck wife Pauline.
DS: Glenn's late wife Pauline absolutely was head over heels in love with Jean Beliveau, and it drove Glenn Hall crazy. He said, "For heaven's sake, don't you understand he's trying to take food off our table? Don't you understand that he's trying to take my head off with the way he shoots the puck?" And all that Pauline Hall would say was, "Glenn, I'm sorry, I don't care. One heartbeat, and I leave you for Jean Beliveau."
And she was not alone. There was one woman who decided to try to drive a wedge into the marriage of Jean and Elise Beliveau. And she called, and Elise answered, she said. "Wouldn't you like to know that your husband's out tonight, gallivanting around, tomcatting through the streets? You should understand this, how silly are you?" And she said, "Well, why don't I just hand you the phone to Jean and you can tell him yourself?" So there were some wonderful stories over the years and they had a marvelous storybook marriage. They were soulmates for 61 years.
BL: There are few professional teams with a fan base as loyal and appreciative as the Montreal Canadiens enjoy. How are folks in Montreal reacting to the passing of the Jean Beliveau?
DS: You know, if this entire city could be flying at half-mast, it would be. There are a number of things that will happen. On Sunday and Monday, Jean Beliveau will lie in wake at the Bell Centre and fans will be able to come in and pay their final respects, as was done in with Maurice Richard in 2000 when the great "Rocket" was lost. As we learned of Mr. Beliveau's passing, the high in Celsius degrees in Montreal hit four, which of course was Mr. Beliveau's jersey number. And some people are saying maybe Le Gros, Bill, as he was known, was looking down and just sort of having a big look at the city that was very much his adopted home for more than six decades.
This segment aired on December 6, 2014.
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