Acadia Mourns the Loss of a Hockey Legend

Acadia University’s Connections with Mr. Béliveau

Jean Beliveau in 1998, touring thru Valley with Connie MacNeil and Garth Vaughan.
Jean Beliveau in 1998, touring thru Valley with Connie MacNeil and Garth Vaughan. (Photo from Kevin Dickie)

The world lost a great man on Tuesday evening, a hockey legend, an ambassador of the game, and a role model for us all. Mr. Jean Béliveau passed away at the age of 83, his name appears on the Stanley Cup 10 times as a player, all with the Montreal Canadiens where he played his entire 20 year NHL career, and was captain of the storied franchise from 1961 until his retirement in 1971. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in June of 1972.

Béliveau’s career didn’t end when he hung up his skates, however. He moved his love of hockey off of the rink and into the community. In addition to working as the senior vice-president and director of relations for the Canadiens, Béliveau has devoted time to working with children. He began the Jean Béliveau Foundation, which gives grants to youth organizations for equipment, in 1971 with the money that was given to him in honour of his 500th goal, and has travelled across Canada on behalf of the Big Brothers Association. Béliveau became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1969. He has had countless other awards bestowed upon him over the years, and reluctantly had to turn down opportunities to become a senator and governor general of Canada. He opted not to go to Ottawa as he felt he had to stay home and help raise his daughter’s children, who lost their father, a Quebec police constable, to suicide.

We at Acadia University had some special connections with ‘Le Gros Bill’ as he was nicknamed in his playing days. In 1998 he received an Honourary Degree from Acadia University. Béliveau’s ancestry traces back to Antoine Béliveau, who settled in 1642 in Port Royal, Nova Scotia. The Béliveau’s were expelled along with the Acadians in 1755 and the family settled in the Boston area before moving to Québec to the Trois Rivières area in the mid-19th century.

Mr. Béliveau didn’t just view his appearances as duties or jobs, instead he was a man who was 100% genuine; he wanted to know more about where he was, the history, and what he could do to help, he genuinely cared.

Acadia’s Athletic Director, and former Head Coach of the Acadia Axemen, Kevin Dickie mentioned a story of trying to recruit a player out of the Montreal area to play for Acadia. Kevin said “While having the opportunity to spend two incredible days with Mr. Béliveau, showing him the Annapolis Valley area and doing some public appearances at local events, I had mentioned to him about recruiting a specific player out of the Montreal area, and that I was trying to convince that player that Acadia University was the best choice for his hockey & personal future. He asked me for the player’s home phone number, and days later, he called the player. You can only imagine the player’s surprise to pick up the phone and have Jean Béliveau calling to let him know that Acadia University was indeed the place to be.”

And, that was just the kind of man Jean Béliveau was.

Mr. Béliveau after receiving Honourary degree from Acadia University in 1988, pictured with Mr. Bill Parker VP External Relations. (photo from Acadia Athletics)
Mr. Béliveau after receiving Honourary degree from Acadia University in 1988, pictured with Mr. Bill Parker VP External Relations. (photo from Acadia Athletics)

Monty Mosher, from the Chronicle Herald posted on Twitter, remembering back to hearing a story from Acadia’s own legend Connie MacNeil, in regards to touring the valley with Mr. Beliveau, “Connie said that when he and Beliveau would appear in public, Beliveau would introduce him first.”

We again had the opportunity to welcome Mr. Béliveau back to Acadia University in 2009, when he was our featured guest for the Acadia Axemen Hockey Celebrity Dinner, and once again, ‘The Gentle Giant’ as he was often referred to off the ice, did not disappoint.

Reliving past stories from his playing days, to finding out from young Acadia Minor Hockey players, how their team was doing this year and what skills they were working on in practice, he wanted to know and wanted to make a difference. Even at the age of 78, he stayed signing autographs for children and adults late into the night, until the long lines were gone, and all fans were happy.

Acadia Head Coach Darren Burns said “Every persons thoughts seem to be the same and for good reason. The way he treated my family and everyone in the Valley was something I’ve never seen before. Everyone felt special after spending time with him. He exuded class, integrity, and genuinely cared about every person he spoke with.”

And that was the kind of man Jean Béliveau was.

Rest in peace #4 Jean Béliveau, you were a legend on the ice, but your legend off the ice as an incredible person, stands even taller.