Rejean Houle was a fine hockey player in his own right, playing parts of 11 seasons and winning the Stanley Cup five times with the Montreal Canadiens, but he admits being daunted by his first meeting with Jean Beliveau.
"When I came on the team in 1970-71, I came in the room and I said, 'Hi, Mr. Beliveau,'" Houle said while attending the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary. "He said, 'Look, don't call me Mr. Beliveau. We're going to play together. You can call me Jean.' I always had a problem getting his name to be Jean. For me it was always Mr. Beliveau."
Houle's experience was not unusual.
Those lucky enough to meet Beliveau recall those meetings in similar ways. They point to his skill and legendary stature in the game, but also to the grace, dignity and, above all, class with which he carried himself. As a result, it was nearly impossible for players who grew up watching Beliveau not to treat him with a deep respect when they faced him.
Beliveau died Tuesday at age 83.