Adieux Pierre Trudeau

09/30/2000
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 endorsed it.

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