One by one legends of the game and former teammates of Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau stepped to the podium to eulogize their friend during his funeral mass at Queen Mary of the World Basilica Cathedral in Montreal on Wednesday.
Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden and Serge Savard, as well as Canadiens owner, CEO and president Geoff Molson, each provided the 1,500 in attendance a personal story of the man they believed personified greatness.
"His presence didn't diminish others but made others better," Dryden said. "He had other skills and might have done other things but he understood probably early in life that his greatest impact wouldn't be as corporate or political leader but as Jean Beliveau, in doing what he did and in being who he was.
Former and current Montreal Canadiens were among the 1,500 people who turned out Wednesday for the funeral of hockey legend Jean Beliveau, who died Dec. 2 at age 83. (Photo: Olivier Samson Arcand)
"As a great star he had a responsibility; he knew to live not as a star but as a good person."
The mass was presided by the Most Rev. Christian Lépine, Archbishop of Montreal, with Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada Gérald Cyprien Lacroix; Rev. Alain Vaillancourt, priest at the Basilica Cathedral Queen Mary of the World; and Rev. Rosaire Lavoie, from the St. Antoine de Padoue Parish.
The music and chants were performed by le Choeur polyphonique de Montréal conducted by Louis Lavigueur, and the contribution of Cairan Ryan, soloist, Hélène Dugal, organist, and Alain Duguay, psalmist.
Cournoyer talked about "Jean, my captain." He became emotional when he began speaking directly to Beliveau's wife, Elise.
"Jean, we feel a great void in our heart and will remember you and never forget," Cournoyer said. "This rose I'm wearing today I will keep for the rest of my life to remember you my captain, my captain. Bon voyage."
Cournoyer and Savard were two of the pallbearers who took Beliveau to his final resting place. Joining them were Phil Goyette, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Rousseau and Jean-Guy Talbot.
"What more can I say about Jean? Everyone has said so many wonderful words like strength, dedication, devotion and elegance," Moore said. "We were so lucky to have him on the team, lucky to have him as a friend. What would you rather be, good or lucky? I was lucky, he was good. I'll miss you Jean. You were a man I always looked up to and I'm only 5-foot-10; God bless you."
Said Savard: "He wanted to be remembered as a good team player. He had the respect of his adversaries and all the fans in the hockey world. He was offered a position as senator and declined in order to dedicate time to his family. He was a great leader and we all looked up to him."
The Beliveau family led a procession from Bell Centre to the church, followed by Canadiens alumni and players and management of the current Canadiens.
Beliveau, 83, died Dec. 2.
He spent 18 full seasons with the Canadiens (1953-71). In 1,125 games he had 507 goals and 1,219 points. He played in 13 NHL All-Star Games and won the Hart Trophy as League MVP twice (1956, 1964), the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer in 1956, and the inaugural Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1965.
Beliveau's name is on the Stanley Cup 17 times. He won the Cup 10 times as a player and was an executive with the Canadiens for seven other wins.
Dryden recalled his days as a 23-year-old rookie rooming with the 39-year-old Beliveau in Beliveau's final season.
"He treated everyone with such respect and said the right things and in the right way in French and English because that's what he believed and that's how he was," Dryden said. "He made every occasion better and made everyone who was there feel that their town, their organization, there province, their country, their event, all mattered; that they mattered. He reminded them of the best that was in them.
"This is not a time to say good-bye; this is a time to say thank you."