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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Sons handle the spotlight with dignity
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, October 3, 2000

As the eight scarlet-coated Mounties carrying Pierre Trudeau's flag-draped coffin on their shoulders side-stepped methodically toward the hearse that was to carry the former prime minister away from Parliament Hill for the last time, Justin Trudeau closed his eyes for a second and squinted hard.

When he opened them again, there was one large tear rolling down his left cheek. He has inherited his mother's eyes and good looks, if not her disposition. His brother Sacha, is half a head shorter than his elder brother, and has more of his father's diminutive but wiry physique. Maybe it was acquired from his father, or maybe it is just the fact of growing up as the middle child, that his eyes seem to be constantly flicking from side to side, on guard against the unexpected.

As Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, his wife Aline and the other several dozen dignitaries who had accompanied the casket through the Hall of Honour exited the Centre Block, they withdrew to the side leaving Justin and Sacha alone on the steps to the Peace Tower.

The reality and the metaphor of the sons' aloneness merged. Their father, for whom they had returned home to nurse, was en route to his final resting place. Their mother, Margaret, who had been very present in the public and private grieving for their youngest brother Michel (he would have been 25 yesterday had he not been swept away by a Kokanee avalanche), and who had been front and centre when their father's body was brought to lie in state on Saturday, had slipped away through another door.

Throughout all of this Justin 29, and Sacha, 27, have conducted themselves with impressive dignity and restraint, conveying a maturity and grace in the midst of the public exposure thrust upon them.

The brothers are no strangers to scrutiny -- as youngsters they were probably the most photographed children in Canada. As they grew into their teens, with their father as prime minister, they were often in the public milieu -- especially after their parents separated and they remained with their father.

Now they have become the sole possessors of the most famous name and tradition in postwar Canada. The brothers seem to be growing into the role in front of our eyes, especially Justin who has taken on the spokesman's role.

Two years ago, on that bleak November day after the memorial service for Michel, it was Justin who agreed to come to the microphones on the steps of St. Viateur's Church in Outrement to sate the media craving for family reaction.

Although the brothers felt somewhat burned a few weeks ago when they tried to put out a calming statement about their father's health, only to find it sparking a media circus, they agreed to override the wishes of their father for an understated exit.

With the encouragement of Mr. Chrétien, they quickly recognized there was a yearning for people to be given an opportunity to pour out feelings and appreciation.

When it came to the train trip to Montreal yesterday, it was the brothers' wish that the train slow down wherever people had gathered. And when that happened, they went to the open door between the cars to acknowledge the people along the tracks. Justin will speak in the service today.

History has shown that it is not easy to grow up as the son or daughter of the famous. Stories abound about the troubled progeny of the Kennedys, of Winston Churchill, or Margaret Thatcher.

Justin, Sacha and Michel all faced the challenge of making their own way in the world, knowing that they would always be measured against the rigour, intelligence and flair of their father. Their mother's sometimes erratic behaviour could be an added strain.

Both Justin and Michel put distance between themselves and the Trudeau legend by moving to Western Canada, Justin to teach school, and Michel to be a ski bum. Sacha briefly tried the Canadian army before quitting to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker.

Now the spotlight and the public pressure has come back on the surviving brothers as it inevitably would. They are handling it admirably well.

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