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.

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