A round of golf with Bill Clinton ...
... but don’t mention the bogeyman
It was an unforgettable day.
Invited by the family of the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and at the request of the federal government, I attended the funeral of the former chancellor on July 1, 2017. Bill Clinton was there as well, and as he was travelling on a private plane the day after the ceremony, I hitched a ride from Germany to New York with the former U.S. president. We spent eight hours together then, and I have to say that I was not bored for a moment in the company of this extremely erudite man who was quite fascinating to listen to. He told me that he was going to be vacationing with his wife, Hillary, their daughter, Chelsea, his son-in-law, and his two grandchildren in North Hatley, Que., and that he’d be happy to play a round of golf with me.
Thus on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, I spent a day with him that was both ordinary and absolutely exceptional. I very much like playing golf with friends, because to spend a few hours on a golf course, with no telephone, surrounded by nature, and with friendly people, is always a pleasure. It’s rather rare to play golf with people you don’t like, because you don’t want to waste a day in nature, in idyllic surroundings, with unpleasant company.
On the other hand, with a partner like Bill Clinton, the day becomes truly memorable. I was up at six o’clock, and at seven I was driving along Highway 55 towards Sherbrooke. I arrived at the golf club at 9:30, the time we’d arranged. I was told that Clinton would be late, and I thought to myself that we would probably start the game at around eleven o’clock, because I knew his habits, and that’s exactly when he arrived.
During the lunch break, we were treated to a very interesting history lesson from an illustrious American citizen who’d been born in the South, had been governor of the state of Arkansas, and had some ancestors who were openly racist. We also learned about former presidents of the United States from the South who owned slaves, such as Washington and Jefferson. It was a fascinating lunch. And on such a glorious day!
The Clintons had been invited by Louise Penny, a writer from Quebec who is very popular in the United States. Her novels are set in the Eastern Townships, and many of her characters are FrenchCanadian, notably her Detective Gamache. The Clintons are fans of her books and so were happy to spend a week in these surroundings. Louise Penny invited them to visit the Benedictine monastery of Saint- Benoît-du-Lac on Lake Memphremagog. Hillary and Bill were fascinated by their visit, by the atmosphere created by prayer, meditation, silence, and the peace of this magnificent place. It must be said, however, that the Prior of St-Benoît-du-Lac made sure to tell them that the murder in the monastery that occurs in one of Louise Penny’s books never actually took place.
At the end of the day, along with the Clinton family and 15 or so of their friends, mostly from the United States, we attended a reception at the celebrated and very pleasant Hovey Manor in North Hatley. Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia joined us, though he was still preoccupied by the Charlottesville crisis that had exposed to us the true face of Donald Trump. Hearing Bill Clinton, the governor of Virginia, and other Americans present express their concern, their confusion, and their incomprehension, I saw how lucky I was to live in Canada, and how important it is for us to remain vigilant, because you never know. Sadly, no society is immune from backsliding where social values are concerned.
Happily, the atmosphere became festive again. As it was Bill Clinton’s 71st birthday, the daughter of the celebrant, his charming Chelsea, stepped up with her adorable little girl, Charlotte. Not yet 3years old, the child was holding a pretty cake with a lit candle and sang, “Happy birthday, Grandpa.” Bill had tears in his eyes. It was very moving.
For this man, who had had a very difficult childhood with a tyrannical stepfather, it was certainly a sublime moment to find himself surrounded by an exceptional wife, a gifted daughter who resembles Hillary, a first-class son-in-law and two adorable grandchildren.
During the dinner that followed, at which the hotel’s chef presented a seven-course gourmet meal of the highest quality, I chatted with Hillary on my right and Louise Penny on my left, allowing me rich exchanges with two remarkable women. Hillary was the same woman with whom I had conversed when she was the American first lady and I was prime minister. She likes to laugh but is also very interested in questioning you on the vital issues of our time. Over 17 years she had been secretary of state in the Obama administration and then a Democratic candidate for president in the 2016 election, and had received three million more votes than Donald Trump.
Although she seemed disappointed by her defeat, she was not bitter. She was now very concerned about the political situation in her country. She said she was happy that Canada had a progressive prime minister like Justin Trudeau, who was very popular around the world, and she again questioned me about our national health system, as she had when I was still an active politician. Given the breadth of her learning, her intelligence, her experience, her absolute commitment to public service, I couldn’t help thinking of what a president she would have been. It’s very sad to observe the monumental error our neighbours to the south made in November of 2016!
I fear that Hillary’s defeat, and the arrival of the fanatical Trump, mark the true end of the American Empire. You can understand why Aline and I are so happy to have the Clintons as friends, and almost as proud to be removed as far as possible from the unspeakable Donald Trump.
Ah yes! Surely you want to know who won the golf game at Lake Memphremagog? I have to tell you that that is a state secret. I can say, however, that I defended the Canadian nation honourably, despite my young 83 years, and especially when I executed a putt of over 50 feet! The Quebec caddies and members of the RCMP who were with us seemed very happy with their former prime minister, almost 13 years older than President Clinton.
Jean Chrétien writes about a memorable day on the course with Bill Clinton. This photo shows a different bonding moment, near Mont-Tremblant.
Excerpted from My Stories, My Times by Jean Chrétien. Copyright © 2018 by Jean Chrétien Professional Corp. English translation copyright © 2018 Sheila Fishman and Donald Winkler. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.