Death can be everything that Jean Beliveau was not - cruel, cunning and unconscionable. While we were preoccupied with Gordie Howe's courageous struggle against failing health, the darkness snuck in the back door and took Gentleman Jean at the age of 83.
At 9 years old, I was a Toronto Maple Leafs fan by default because the Leafs were my father's favorite team. Then, one night in 1968, I saw Jean Beliveau score a hat trick in a Montreal Canadiens game broadcast on Radio Canada, and everything changed. The Canadiens were my new team, and Beliveau was my favorite player for the remainder of his career.
I was privileged enough to meet him on a number of occasions - once as a kid at a peewee hockey banquet in Fredericton and a few more times at media events over the years - and it was always like meeting royalty, except that Beliveau wasn't trained in how to make it appear that he was genuinely interested in you. Patience, empathy and goodwill were part of his nature. His ambassadorial qualities transcended hockey to the point where he was routinely touted as a candidate for Governor-General - an honour he declined when it was officially offered because it would have taken away from time spent with his family.
It tells you everything you need to know about Jean Beliveau that he'll be remembered more for his regal bearing and unfailing grace than he will be for his Hall of Fame talent and accomplishments as a hockey player, which were beyond considerable.
He was in every way someone all of us should aspire to emulate.