Being Jean Beliveau a perpetual reward

Re-visiting an old interview with Jean Beliveau reminded me why he should — in perpetuity — be held at a level of esteem reserved for precious few professional athletes. At the time, the classy captain of the Montreal Canadiens was two years into retirement. I was new in town, and had been a hockey writer in Vancouver during the 10th and final time his name was engraved (as a player) on the Stanley Cup. This was our first meeting.

His Montreal Forum office was 15 feet down the hall from General Manager Sam Pollock and, while he had a title and responsibilities, all the Canadiens expected was for him to be Jean Beliveau. Part of that was growing his fund to help disabled children, which turned into a big part of my story.

The fund began, at his request, when Pollock and Canadiens owner David Molson said they wanted to honour him with a night at The Forum. “I will accept,” Beliveau told them, “but there are certain conditions.” There would be no cars or other extravagant gifts, and if there were donations they would help needy children.

“I thought, well, $50,000 would be great,” Beliveau told me. “Was I shocked when I saw the amount!”

The amount was $155,855. It soon became $200,000. He said he hoped to keep it going for 10 years. After 18 years of administering the fund, Beliveau morphed it with the Quebec Society for Crippled Children, where today “his fund” has capital of $1.8 mil- lion with another $1.9 million — all from the interest that continues to accrue seven years after his death — going to help disabled kids.

“Not too many men can have the good fortune to have their own foundation, especially when you started from scratch like I did in Victoriaville,” he said. “I spend many hours on it. I know what a little money can do for those associations. In my own way, I think I’m playing a role for the organization, and for society.”

To the best of my knowledge, Beliveau never personally accepted a nickel for hundreds of guest speaking appearances, asking only if somebody really wanted to pay him, they could make a contribution to his fund.

“And a very important point,” Beliveau added, “is that no solicitation has been done by the fund.”

He was first to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, the most out- standing player in the Stan- ley Cup playoffs. He lived all his post-playing days in the Canadiens family, his name engraved on the Cup seven more times. One prime minister wanted to make him a senator; another wanted him as Governor-General. He turned down both offers.

Long before that, he told me this: “It’s hard to say no. I’ve got to learn to say no. I am, you can say, a little more selective.”

Camil Desroches, a member of the organization for 20 Stanley Cups, watched Beliveau’s transition from playing.

“Beliveau,” Camil said that day, “in two years with the front office, has easily upped our prestige by 50 per cent.”

And he did it just by being Jean Beliveau.