I knew Pierre Elliot Trudeau before, during and after the Canadian
Trudeaumania, and he was always the same. He dripped with sharp
wit unassumingly while curiously and endlessly exploring the edge
of excellence. While understanding - sometimes enjoying - human
follies, he never suffered fools gladly.
A friend introduced us during his first prolonged stay in New
York as a member of Canada's delegation to the United Nations
General Assembly Session. He was working then for Prime Minister
Lester Pearson, one of the unacknowledged creators of the second
generation of UN Peacekeeping through UNEF, whose withdrawal from
Sinei in 1967 led to war after a decade of truce. I had no clue
about Canadian politics. Little did I know or care that my ally
in exploring Manhattan of the mid-sixties was soon to be propelled
into leadership of one of the world's most important countries.
During his first incognito visits as Prime Minister, he wanted
to see one of the Japanese movies he loved. Walking out on 59th
street we bumped into a jovial girlfriend of mine, an airline
stewardess. Introduced to her only as "mon amie Pierre," she hugged
him, planted her elbow into each of ours, and strolled along with
us to a casual café. Only much later did it dawn on her that our
attentive, outspoken friend was none other than the Prime Minister
of our neighbour to the North.
Almost the same thing happened at another private night. After
a gathering of familiar New York friends at my apartment, we went
for a snack at an Irish pub around the corner of 66th Street and
First Avenue. He insisted on treating us, paying by cheque. It
was immediately rejected. A few minutes later, it was retreived
by the manager with profuse apologies. Apparently a plain-clothed
detective of "New York's finest" observing at close range had
He did not return to New York - or maybe even not to the United
States - after leaving public office. Nor would he accept invitations
to seminars or offers of international positions. When there was
an argument about the leadership of UNESCO after the end of Mr.
M'Bo's term, I made a special visit to Montreal urging him to
run as Director General. Possibly more informed than I was, he
turned it down. He said he wanted to devote his time to his children.
During the last few years, I would visit Montreal occasionally
to see him, have lunch in the garden of the Ritz-Carlton then
walk down to his office by the river. The warmth of his smile
blended with a glint in his eyes - a wit as sharp as ever and
a mind just as clear.
With pain accumulating in his personal life, he never wavered
in his determination and courage to dream of Canada, his beloved
Canada, with its unique identity and inclusive culture enriched
by its variety, not separated by its diversity.
For Canada, he went where no other leader went and doors were
wide open. On behalf of Canada, he advocated human dignity and
the quality of life long before they became fashionable slogans.
To Canada, he gave his mind and heart in the unflinching belief
in a country with a soul.
Now he is gone, I realize that through him, my life, like that
of millions of others, was richer, better, more meaningful. Now
I feel like telling everyone how proud I am to have lived at the
same time as Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Adieux, mon amie Pierrot.
-- Samir Sanbar