Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Trudeau's caring side was seldom a secret to those who knew him
By ANNE McILROY
Saturday, September 30, 2000
OTTAWA -- When Dave Dempster was dying of cancer, Pierre Trudeau would regularly drop by the hospital to sit with his former chauffeur.
"It meant a lot to him," remembered Jacques Deschambault, who took over as the prime minister's driver after Mr. Dempster fell ill.
"He was so caring," said Diane Scharf who worked in Mr. Trudeau's office between 1974 and 1984. "He was shy and some people took that as arrogance, but nothing could be further from the truth."
Formal tributes to Pierre Elliott Trudeau have focused on his formidable intelligence, his style, his belief in reason over passion, the strength of his convictions, his clarity of thought, his courage, his political achievements and failures.
Yesterday, friends, colleagues and former employees remembered a side of the former prime minister few Canadians knew. The caring boss who sent flowers to a sick secretary. The tender father who looked exhausted at a first ministers conference because he had been up all night with a sick child. The ladies' man who served a roast chicken dinner to his Friday night date, chicken sandwiches to the beauty who turned up for lunch the next day and chicken soup to date No. 3.
They shared irreverent stories, like the time his flashy convertible filled with rain during John Diefenbaker's funeral and Mr. Trudeau shook his fist at the sky and blamed the Chief. They talked of lunches and long canoe trips and memories that have more to do with the private man than the politician.
"This was a man who was incisive, impatient, demanding and forbidding. But on the other hand, there was a gentleness to his character that was very, very present. It was a constant," said Richard O'Hagan, his former communications adviser.
"Women found him very attractive, very appealing," said David Smith, a former MP and cabinet minister who is now chairman of the party's election campaign.
Singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who was among the many glamorous women Mr. Trudeau dated before he was married, paid tribute to him yesterday.
"He was very unusual, an athlete with a poetic soul," said Ms. Streisand, who learned of Mr. Trudeau's death after her final concert in New York on Thursday night. "His love and dedication to his country were inspiring. He had extraordinary charm and grace and style. He will be greatly missed."
His children were his priority. Many colleagues told stories of him cutting short meetings because he had promised he would be home to have lunch or dinner with his boys.
He would swim with them, have supper and put them to bed, and then bring out his briefing binders. Ms. Scharf often delivered papers to his home in the evening. She would use the back entrance, which was cluttered with mitts, hats and hockey equipment. He would be sitting by the fire, alone.
"I had the sense he was very lonely."
Even his friends describe him as aloof. Politics then, as now, was dominated by men, but Mr. Trudeau was never one of the boys. Gérard Pelletier, one of his closest friends, was once asked what it was like to have dinner at Mr. Trudeau's house during the early years of their friendship in Montreal. He replied that he had never been invited. Yet when Mr. Pelletier died of cancer in 1997, Mr. Trudeau said "a part of my soul has left me."
He was never described as a warm, people person. Environment Minister David Anderson remembers a lunch they had in 1986. They hadn't seen each other in years, yet Mr. Trudeau asked after dozens of people in Mr. Anderson's native British Columbia, remembering the names of their wives and children.
"It was assumed he was not interested in people, yet he seemed to remember the more personal things."