Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Eulogy by Jacques Hébert
October 3, 2000
Former senator Jacques Hébert (in translation)
Pierre Trudeau loved very much this thought written by Aristotle: The main goal of society is that its members be able to collectively and individually live a full life.
Throughout his years as head of government, he tenaciously tried to achieve this goal. He was convinced that it was a priority to help young people blossom.
During the past few days, a lot has been said about his more spectacular endeavours - the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution and official languages, et cetera - but we also heard mention of his immense compassion for the youth of this country. He never hesitated to put to the fore programs aimed at youth such as youth opportunities, Katimavik, Canada World Youth. He still spoke to me fondly about Katimavik 10 days before his death in a barely audible voice as if it were already coming from another world, another place.
Hundreds of thousands of young people are now living fruitful and full lives thanks to one or the other of Pierre Trudeau's undertakings toward young people. This voiceless minority who up until that time had never seemed to interest or concern politicians.
One day in 1959, a long time before his entry into politics, I had asked him for his help to help with a young orphan who was having trouble with the rotten system that existed at the time. He was an orphan at that time, one of Duplessis's orphans, as we'd say today.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau threw himself heart and soul into this struggle that lasted for many months until this young, 19-year-old youth was able to recover, both his freedom and dignity. One example among thousands of the generosity of this man.
When he was young and free, some would call him a playboy because once and a while we would see him on the ski slopes - Saturdays, perhaps - but the rest of the week, and his friends can testify to that, he worked doggedly to write articles, memoirs that were going to feed the Quiet Revolution and come to task with received ideas.
He was one of the most ardent defenders of the young labour movement in Quebec, which was hardly tolerated at the time, and civil liberties that were often infringed.
For those who admire Pierre Trudeau, he remains a hero and a giant among men. A kind of superman, proud, courageous, a knight in shining armour of immense culture, uncommon intelligence, that was placed at the disposal of Quebec and Canada, both the province and country that he loved passionately.
And those who had the privilege and joy of being a friend of his, recall Pierre Trudeau much differently than the public figure that the media never tires of.
For his friends, Pierre Trudeau was, first and foremost, a good and happy friend, a simple human being with a delicacy of nature, generous, attentive, which might surprise those who never knew him and had been known to use the word arrogance.
He had an exquisite sense of what friendship meant, and that is why the illness and death of his friend, Gérard Pelletier, our common friend, was a great blow to him. After the funeral, he sighed and said - quite an incredible expression coming from such a discreet man - 'I just have lost a bit of my soul.'
And the day we learned of his own death, an expected moment, how many among us felt the same thing - that a little bit of ourselves had just flown away. [end translation]
He taught us to question ourselves and debate ideas rather than feelings.
Because of Pierre Trudeau, we have become better human beings, and Canada is now a more generous and caring country. As he once said, a country can be influential in the world by the size of its heart and the breadth of its mind, and this is the role that Canada can play. [Begin translation]Among Pierre Trudeau's qualities, there is one on which everyone is unanimous. Until his last breath, he was an admirable father who gave the best of himself to his children. He could have allowed himself to become distracted, overwhelmed by the duties of being prime minister. He adored his three boys and his daughter, and with infinite patience he communicated his values to them. His love of culture, his love of nature, his sense of discipline.
When I think of Pierre Trudeau, I always see him surrounded by his three boys at various stages of their lives, such as in the numerous photographs that line the walls of his office and home.
We can all rejoice in one thing, at least. He died in peace, lucid, serene, accepting his fate, happy and surrounded by Justin, Sacha and Margaret, and he well deserved this final moment.
It is perhaps not correct to quote an agnostic in this church, but Trudeau loved Baudelaire so much:
'Happy is the man who can run in serene and happy fields, those whose thoughts like larks fly in the morning, fly over life and understand without effort the language of both flowers and things unspoken.'
Goodbye, O brother, rest in peace. And we will all continue to love you.