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In their own words

ÉLISE BÉLIVEAU

Elise Beliveau salutes the crowd as she stands next to her husband Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau's empty seat, during a ceremony prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks in NHL hockey action Tuesday.

Élise Béliveau salutes the crowd as she stands next to the seat of her husband, late Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Béliveau.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Élise Béliveau (née Couture) has witnessed some of the most legendary sporting feats in Canadian history, not least of which were the career exploits of her husband Jean, one of the classiest and most-beloved hockey players of all time. She has also endured tribulation and tragedy, but has remained resolutely upbeat through the low points

It was a blind date. I went out with him, and we fell in love. So you never know.

He didn't like to drive, so I was his chauffeur. I was a good driver, I liked to drive fast but I didn't get any tickets. Well, maybe two or three! Drive fast, just not too fast.

You have to accept a lot of things when you live in public, it's usually easier to do it with a smile.

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There's a big piece missing from this house. When he died I didn't think I'd be strong enough to do all the little things that I knew I would have to do. It's not always easy, sometimes I feel tears coming but you have to put on a happy face. When I'm alone I can do what I want, but when you're out there you have to try and smile, I don't think people want to see you cry. Everyone has dealt with tragedy in their lives.

Following the funeral, when it was time to come back for that game, I though 'oh God, this is going to be hard', but everyone was so nice. I started to cry, that was when I had my hands in the air, and I couldn't stop. It was a little embarrassing. Then I kept going to every game, because it helped me. It helped me a lot, actually, I still love hockey, and I love those boys. This fall I couldn't wait for the season to start.

Always pick up the phone … with the call display it makes it simpler now, but even before we had that we never had a problem with people calling (for decades, the Béliveaus were listed in the phone book). Everybody was very respectful.

My father passed away when I was seven, so my mother raised me and my brother and sister. She was strict, but not too strict. And she always said to be kind and to listen to people, so I've tried to do that. I don't know if it's worked.

Every night while he was alive my father and I would kneel down and say our prayers together before I went to bed. I still say them every night. But I don't get on my knees any more, it hurts too much and I'm too old.

People are always nice. I've had maybe a handful of bad experiences in all this time. (The public) has showed me as well that you have to be patient.

Over the years I saw (fame) isn't always easy, but you have to learn to appreciate it. I didn't see much of the bad side. We really were like a family, we used to be with each other all the time.

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The first thing I'd say to (today's players) is listen to the coach! And be good with people, take the time to talk to them. Some players don't necessarily like that, they pass by quickly or they don't pay too much attention. But people love you, they want to talk to you, your time maybe means more to them than it does to you.

I learned that from Jean. He'd always take to the time sign autographs or to talk when he'd get stopped on the street, which happened every day. I used to think that he must be really tired, I would get home and be exhausted. But no, he was never tired, he enjoyed it.

Mme Elise Beliveau goes over some of the highlights of her husband's 18-year NHL career, in Montreal, on March 3, 1971. Former Montreal Canadiens star Jean Beliveau died Tuesday at the age of 83. THE CANADIAN PRESS/UPI

‘I’m still surprised when people come up to me. Sometimes they even ask me for autographs, but I’m not even a hockey player! But it’s flattering to be asked, and I never say no.’

Canadian Press/UPI

I had a good husband, I have a good family, I've always been a happy person. I've been lucky. It helps to be lucky.

We were married 63 years and I remember only one fight. We could sometimes disagree about things like anyone else, but usually one of us would say something and discover the other person was thinking the same thing.

Hockey is so different now, it doesn't feel like the same game. It used to be six teams, I never imagined it could get this big. The Canadiens were always important to Montreal, but not like this.

When I first met Jean he was 18 or 19 - we were born seven months apart. He was shy, and very quiet. It took a little while, but he got over it.

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I knew nothing about hockey, so at first I couldn't believe it. When it started, I thought 'my God, what is all this?' But it was really nice, we met so many nice people over the years. We were spoiled, really. But sometimes it's fun to be spoiled.

It's hard to give advice. Every person is so different.

I'm still surprised when people come up to me. Sometimes they even ask me for autographs, but I'm not even a hockey player! But it's flattering to be asked, and I never say no.

They are wonderful boys. People tease me about P.K., but I love them all equally. Well okay, maybe some a little bit more than others. When Jean died, the entire team came to the Bell Centre, they were very sweet to us, and I remember they were dressed beautifully.

My mother was Irish and my father was French, she didn't speak much French so I grew up mostly in English. It's good to speak more than one (language), it teaches perspective.

Back then it was more important to marry inside your religion than your culture. It was a long time ago, times have changed.

– As told to Sean Gordon

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