1,000 mourners honour Ben Weider

Ben Weider was remembered yesterday as a private, humble and unassuming man, an optimist who loved Glen Miller and big band music, who was looking forward to the opening Thursday of the gallery housing his Napoleon collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Known internationally for promoting bodybuilding as an Olympic sport and highly regarded as a Napoleonic scholar, Weider died Friday at the age of 85.

1,000 mourners honour Ben Weider

He was to have inaugurated a gallery housing 60 pieces of Napoleonic memorabilia including Bonaparte’s funeral mask, two locks of the emperor’s hair, the hat he wore during the Russian campaign, several original period portraits, marble and bronze busts, and prints.

The museum announced it will go ahead with the opening as planned, at the request of Weider’s family.

“His wishes will be respected,” said the museum’s director, Nathalie Bondil. “He was so happy about the opening. He had arranged it down to the last detail. It was very important to him.”

Weider’s funeral was like the man himself: dignified, modest and low key. Scarlet-clad soldiers of le Royal 22e Regiment and le 62e Regiment d’artillerie du Canada formed a guard of honor outside the funeral home during the 50-minute service. Weider was honorary Colonel of the Field Artillery regiment, and worked closely with the Van Doos.

“He will be remembered as a great Quebecer who had a love and a feeling for French Canada, and the respect was returned, even by those who have a nationalist tinge,” said retired general Terry Liston. “He was a role model for those of us who aren’t de souche, as you might say.”

Weider’s mahogany casket was unadorned except for a Star of David. There was no evidence of the 66 awards and honors he accumulated during his lifetime, including the Order of Canada, l’ordre du Quebec, and the French Legion d’honneur, which was established by Bonaparte.

“Ben Weider has fallen, his earthly pilgrimage has ended, his work is done,” said Rabbi Alan Bright, who eulogized Weider as “one of those rare individuals who succeed in creating an atmosphere, an aura about them that sets them apart. Ben’s life was full and his years crowded with achievements that touched all kinds of people.”

Jean-Claude Turcotte, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Montreal, former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, and former speaker of the Quebec National Assembly Michel Bissonnet were among the crowd of about 1,000 mourners at the funeral.

“He was one of the greatest Montrealers I ever knew,” Turcotte said before the service. “He was open to everyone, he helped Catholics, Arabs, Palestinians, Jews. He had his convictions, but he understood that we all have the same God.”

Bouchard joked about how Weider saved the taxpayers of Quebec “a lot of money” by personally financing repairs to Mary the Queen of the World Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Senator Serge Joyal, who shared Weider’s interest in Napoleon and who persuaded Weider to donate the collection to museum, was one of the honorary pall bearers.

“He was a humanist,” he said. “Money was not his foremost pre-occupation. What he valued above all was mutual respect for human beings – all human beings.”

Rabbi Abraham Cohen read the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd, in three languages as the service ended.

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