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"Je t'aime, papa."

As a young man buried his dad, a star was born.

Justin Pierre James Trudeau captured the hearts of a country yesterday with a eulogy to his father that by turns brought smiles and tears to many as he said goodbye for himself, his family and the nation.

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It was not the first time Justin, 28, has been a public spokesman for his famous family. He came forward when his brother, Michel, died in an avalanche two years ago.

But the powerful speech for his father, the tears, the head resting on the coffin, have made him a truly public figure, quite likely ending the privacy he has cherished.

The man who stood before Canadians yesterday has most recently been a drama and French teacher at a private school in Vancouver, one who encouraged his students to go on stage, even to the point of carrying them on. "He always kept us motivated," said Andrea Jukes, a Grade 10 student at West Point Grey Academy.

Justin has followed in many of the same footsteps as his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He attended the Jesuit-run Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal. Like his father, Justin is a skilled outdoorsman. He has even taught white-water rafting. Also like his father, Justin has revealed little of his private life.

Neighbours are protective of him on Vancouver's west side, where he lives in a stylish, red-brick heritage apartment building, six storeys high. Some have even denied he resides there.

"Be good to him," said a woman neighbour, who confirmed he does live in the building.

Justin, on a leave of absence from the school, has been granted virtually complete privacy by Vancouverites and its news media.

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Most knew little about him until he appeared on the Gabereau Live TV show earlier this year with his mother.

Those who got a close-up glimpse of him at the time were bowled over by his stunning, matinee-idol looks, his tact, and his concern for the well-being of his mother, Margaret Trudeau.

The pair went public to raise awareness about avalanche safety after the tragic death of Justin's youngest brother, Michel, in 1998 at Kokanee Lake, high in B.C.'s interior mountains.

"He certainly has style. He knows what kind of a guy he is," said show host Vicki Gabereau.

"As he's shown in the past few days, unlike like most of us who often don't know how to react, he knows exactly what has to happen and how it should happen."

Ms. Gabereau said Justin is like his father in his ability to be in control.

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She recalled accompanying Justin to the ski cabin where his brother stayed before his fatal accident.

"The photographers were pressing in on him a little bit, saying 'over there,' and so on. Finally, he said: 'It's enough, now.' And they stopped."

She said Justin was very conscious of his mother's fragility.

"He was very protective of her. You can see, by the fact he's a teacher of young people, that there's tremendous character there."

Justin, the eldest son, has taken on the role of protector. He was the one who, voluntarily, dealt with the media after Michel's funeral.

"The reason I agreed to do this is to ask you to please leave my father be. Leave my mother be. Give us our time to grieve, and our space," he said.

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Justin has spent his life close to the limelight, though he has rarely been the focus of attention.

His birth -- on Christmas Day, 1971 -- made national news when he became the first child born to a sitting Canadian prime minister in 102 years.

He was subject to intense scrutiny. A picture of him, a pudgy, bald-headed baby with one shoe off and one shoe on, adorned the prime minister's Christmas cards in 1972.

At age 3, the boy made front-page news when he bellowed that his father was a "wicked old man" when he was spirited out of a party a little earlier than he wanted to go home.

But, as Justin grew older, his intensely private father sheltered him from the public. Even though Justin and his brothers travelled around Canada and the world -- meeting the Pope and going to the North Pole to see Santa (a story he related yesterday to show his father's tender side) -- they were always considered off-limits to journalists.

The well-ingrained reticence to the camera remains, though only partly. The family allowed one Canadian Press still camera and one television crew in the church yesterday.

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Justin has said repeatedly that politics do not interest him, but, like a good would-be politician, has never ruled out public life.

"I'm a teacher and I believe in making a difference," he told The Globe and Mail in an interview this summer.

"If I ever felt that could be done in politics, I might end up there. But it's not something I'm making plans around."

Four and a half years ago, Justin gave early hints of the impressive young man he appears to have become, sitting in on meetings with world leaders at the international InterAction gathering in Vancouver in 1996. His father also attended the meetings.

During an interview after the conference, Justin, then 24, emphasized that he was trying to escape being identified as the son of famous parents.

"They taught me my name means nothing. It's who you are," he told the interviewer. "I don't make a big deal out of the fact that I have the privilege of attending this stuff."

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At yesterday's funeral, he showed many traces of his father's style.

When he spoke, particularly in French, the voice was that of his father. So was the smile, the eloquence, the rose on the lapel and the ability to seize the moment.

At his young age, Justin has already lived through his parents' very public breakup, buried a younger brother, and now a father. The pressures seemed to have left him mature beyond his years.

The Poem

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." -- Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. He has kept his promises and earned his sleep." -- Justin Trudeau, eulogy to his father

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