When Jean Béliveau died, the turnout for his public viewing at Bell Centre was overwhelming.
“The whole team came and it was so nice to see,” his wife said. “They all came in nicely dressed, two by two. They were all there. They are all nice boys.”
The Canadiens hosted Vancouver the night of Jean Béliveau’s funeral. After a pregame ceremony that included the singer Ginette Reno’s heart-tugging rendition of “Ceux qui s’en vont,” Élise Béliveau received a sustained applause tribute with her arms spread wide as her husband’s No. 4 sweater draped the empty seat to her right.
“I was thanking everybody,” she said. “Then I started to cry.”
She said she had pictures of Jean in every room at home.
“Maybe I have too many of them, but it feels good,” she added. “We were 63 years together. You don’t forget that. You never forget.”
As Hélène Béliveau settled into a comfortable chair after a scoreless first period between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs, she surveyed the alumni lounge scene and smiled.
“It does feel like family here,” she said. “It’s very cozy.”
But angst would increase over the next 40 minutes of hockey as Toronto scored twice in the second period and four times in the third, resulting in a 6-0 loss that left the home crowd murmuring with displeasure.
But for Élise Béliveau, who attends about half of the team’s home games, departing early was not an option.
“We always stay until the end,” she said.
Two weeks later, on the anniversary of Jean’s death, Béliveau was at Bell Centre as the Canadiens erupted for 10 goals at home against another Original Six rival, the Detroit Red Wings.
Even dedicated Canadiens fans born well after Jean Béliveau retired are comforted by his wife’s steady presence.
“When I look down just to see Mrs. Béliveau in her seat, it brings back memories of the team’s heyday,” said Mike Palmorino, 30, a Canadiens follower since 1991, two years before Montreal won its most recent Stanley Cup. “For me, that means there is always hope. No matter what happens in life, never give up.”