As Canada mourns Jean Béliveau, one of our Canadian national sports heroes, I thought I would add this heartwarming story about Jean - one of this country's hockey legends - and how he touched the lives of both my daughter and her dad. Here's the tale in my daughter Leslie Ehm's own words...
"My dad was taking part in a huge machine tool manufacturing trade show in Montreal and wanted to attract attention to his booth. I asked him who, in his wildest dreams, would he love to have as a celebrity guest. Without hesitation, he said "Jean Béliveau."
"I'm going to get him for you," I promised, while having no idea how the hell I was going to fulfill this lofty ask in an effort to, let's face it, impress the shit outta my dad.
So I tracked down his agent, offered up the not impressive sum of money I had to play with, and was quickly turned down. Have you met me? This was only a minor deterrent. A little bit of research turned up his address and phone number so I wrote and called him. He answered. I poured out my story, including wanting to impress my dad and ending with a mumbled "And this is what I have to spend." He was quiet for a minute.
"When would you need me?" he asked in his gently lilted Quebecois accent. I gave him the date and time. "OK," he said. "And I'll bring some books. You want to give away some signed books - no"? Yes.
When I told my father I'd gotten Jean for him, he was totally incredulous. He could not fathom how I managed it. I was thrilled.
Jean arrived on time, dapper in a suit, and flying solo. He apologized for sucking on a candy and explained that his mouth was constantly dry due to the mouth cancer he was recovering from and insisted I call him Jean. He walked slowly but his eyes were twinkly. We chatted and chatted more. Soon he was sharing some of his life story with me - the tragic suicide of his son-in-law, how much he loved his grandkids, and what he wanted for them...
We finally set him up at the booth and a total mob scene ensued. I swear that man must have signed 200 books. He shook everyone's hand, was kind and sweet and spent so much more time that he was asked. Eventually I broke up the party just because he looked so tired. The last book he signed was for my husband. I walked him back to his car, more slowly this time and we talked about how my father's face had been so lit up the entire time. "He's proud of you," he said to me. I hugged him hard.
RIP Jean. Forget hockey. You were just an incredible human being.