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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Margaret collapses after Michel remark
CTV journalist points out yesterday was the birthday of youngest son, who died in 1998

By SHAWN McCARTHY AND PAUL ADAMS; With a report from Canadian Press
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, October 3, 2000

OTTAWA -- For four days, Margaret Trudeau had maintained a brave public face for Canadians who once were fascinated by their prime minister's mercurial, flower-child bride.

Yesterday, that carefully maintained composure cracked. A thoughtless remark by a journalist led Ms. Trudeau to collapse sobbing on the grounds of Parliament Hill, stunning mourners who had gathered there.

Ms. Trudeau, the former wife of Pierre Trudeau and mother of their three children, had walked down to the Centennial Flame at the foot of Parliament Hill. A few minutes earlier, a cortege had transported Mr. Trudeau's casket to a waiting funeral train bound for Montreal.

The flame and the fountain that surrounds it have become an impromptu shrine to the former prime minister, covered with the red roses that were his trademark. An apparently composed Ms. Trudeau inspected some of the notes of condolence attached to the bouquets and warmly accepted the sympathies of people in the crowd. Her movements were being broadcast live to a national TV audience.

In one particularly touching moment, a woman said, "I met Mr. Trudeau in 1968 and I thought it would bring some closure to meet you." Ms. Trudeau replied with a gentle laugh, saying she also met Mr. Trudeau that same year.

Then, CTV newscaster Mike Duffy offered his condolences, and noted to her that it was the birthday of her son Michel, who died nearly two years ago in an avalanche.

A shocked Ms. Trudeau turned on her heels and ran onto the Parliament Hill lawn, where she collapsed in tears. An RCMP officer asked bystanders to allow her some space as a number of relatives gathered around her. When she had recovered herself, her relatives led her away.

Later, Ms. Trudeau said the reminder of her son -- coming on top of an emotional ceremony for her ex-husband -- had simply been too much.

"I was trying to be as a strong as I could be and I just . . . fortunately everything was over but I still got caught," she said in a brief telephone interview.

She played down Mr. Duffy's faux pas. "He was trying to be thoughtful," she said. "It's all over and no problem."

Robert Hurst, senior vice-president of CTV News, said both he and Mr. Duffy called Ms. Trudeau about an hour after the incident. "Mr. Duffy called immediately after I did . . . and he apologized to Margaret and she graciously accepted both his and CTV's apology."

Mr. Hurst said the incident was unintentional, and Mr. Duffy had addressed Ms. Trudeau about the matter sympathetically.

Ms. Trudeau was 22 when she married the 51-year-old prime minister. Their marriage was a tempestuous one, with Ms. Trudeau gaining international notoriety for partying at New York's Studio 54, among other things.

After her divorce from Mr. Trudeau, she remarried but is now divorced from her second husband, real-estate developer Fried Kemper.

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