Tens of thousands of people visited the Bell Centre on Sunday to pay tribute to the late Mr. Jean Béliveau, who lay in wake for the first of two days of public viewing. A steady stream of fans braved the cold to offer their sincerest condonlences to the Béliveau family, and bid their hockey idol farewell for the last time. A host of sports and political figures were on site as well.
"I met him when I was 16 years old. I was playing for Thetford Mines back then. We came to Montreal to watch a Canadiens practice. He met with us one by one and shook our hands. Jean was my idol. I remember that in the bus heading back home, I jokingly said that I wouldn’t wash my hand for a week. It was the first time that I’d met him. Then, the first game in Buffalo when I was 20. It was the first game in Sabres history and we were playing against the Canadiens."
"It’s a shock for everyone. He’s an irreplaceable ambassador, not only for the Montreal Canadiens, but for the entire world. Nobody will ever measure up to him, even if we each scored 500 goals."
"Mr. Béliveau was bigger than life. He was an amazing person. He was truly a role model for us all. No matter the generation, he always took the time to talk to us. He was the best example of dignity and respect. He was always working for others. He was taking care of several causes through his Foundation. I remember that he was very, very involved with disabled kids."
"I will always remember that amazing goal with Frank Mahovlich against Gilles Gilbert when he scored his hat trick against the North Stars. The anecdote I learned from that was that even after his goal, he went to see Gilles Gilbert because he knew his father and he went to talk to him to apologize. That was the kind of man he was. He was a monument."
"Elise, his wife, is solid as a rock. My thoughts and prayers are with the family right now. I invite all Montrealers to come pay their respects to Mr. Béliveau."
"We want our children and our grandchildren to look at Mr. Béliveau as an example. Jean did so much for the community. He was always there. Jean was there for anyone that needed him, no matter where they resided. I hope he’ll be an example to our current players, too, in terms of how they have to think of the fans and people that might not have the same means as they do. Jean was a man of hope. He was an exceptional man."
"I am very privileged to have some very fond memories. He spoke to me the day that I was appointed and made that day a lot easier to get through because he had such a way of making you feel at home. He welcomed me to the family. He was very encouraging, telling you that it wasn’t as daunting as you thought it might be. I got through the first day very well thanks to Jean, in some part. Over the 11 years that I was here, we saw each other regularly. Jean was a presence. He didn’t have to be physically there to have a great influence on everyone in the organization and our community. I kind of think of him as sort of our conscience. He’ll always be with us. I hope many people will always look to his values and the way he led his life to be a model."
"The family knows how we feel. Mrs. Gillett and I, and Foster, are enormously appreciative that Jean Béliveau and Elise were our mentors. It meant something very special to our family, and it meant something special to all of the Canadiens fans around the world. What a gentleman."
"I’ve only met two people in my life with that type of dignity and class, and he was one of them. Not once in all the years that he helped our family, I never heard him talk about his own successes and the brilliance of his own career. He always wanted to help us. He was the most humble, magnificent man."