My father died this past weekend. Ravaged by Parkinson's Disease - beaten-up by a tsunami of heart attacks and strokes - my 83-year-old dad looked nothing like the fine young warrior who represented Canada at the 1948 Olympic Games. Looked nothing, even, like the fit sixtysomething skier who came to Whistler in 1990 to teach with Ski Esprit and "practice" retirement. In fact, there wasn't much left of the man when he finally left us on Saturday. Still, his legacy will be felt for a long time to come...
Lifelong athlete, passionate outdoorsmen and ski resort visionary, Gabriel Beaudry was on the forefront of the post-war lifestyle revolution that completely changed the way North Americans would spend their leisure time. It was his generation, to be precise, that transformed skiing from a fringe sport to a thriving business. It was his cohorts, essentially, who invented the modern "ski resort" concept.
Isn't death awful? It diminishes you. Robs you of your dignity. Makes you so small, nothing more than a wasted container of bones and sinews and serum and blood. But to me, Gabriel remains the bigger-than-life hero that I followed, learned from, argued with, rebelled against, laughed with - and finally mourned. He was the man who introduced me to the joys of outdoor pursuits. Taught me all about "healthy mind in healthy body." Who stood by my brothers and me - no matter how much trouble we got into - but never excused our bad behaviour or irresponsible acts.
It wasn't always easy being the eldest of four boys. Particularly with a dad like mine. I still remember as a child leafing through the scrapbook my grandmother had patiently put together and being blown away by his exploits. North American and European rowing champion, college football star, nationally-ranked three-way skier (jumping, cross-country, alpine), the guy could do it all. Gaby, as his friends called him, was the leader of his gang. He was the bright-eyed boy with the limitless future. There was no way, I thought, that I could ever live up to his expectations.
Sadly, it took me a long time to realize those were my expectations, not his. All he wanted, I eventually understood, was for me to be happy. Gaby had a very straightforward approach to life. Work hard, he believed, stay honest - particularly with yourself - and good things will happen.
He remained true to that ethic until the moment he died. And though some of the good things he hoped for failed to materialize, he never became sour or negative. He was always a glass half-full kind of a guy... his last ski run was always "the best run ever."