Mourners bid adieu to bodybuilding pioneer Ben Weider
Philanthropist and businessman honoured
Hundreds of mourners from all walks of life packed a Montreal funeral home Monday to bid a final farewell to Ben Weider.
The businessman, philanthropist and Napoleonic scholar is best known for founding the International Federation of BodyBuilders in 1940 with his brother Joe, helping to legitimize the sport.
Weider died unexpectedly on Friday at the age of 85.
His son Eric describes his father as a simple, loving man who remained humble in the face of his success.
"At his core he was the same Ben Weider, with everybody, whether you were a janitor or a prince — it made no difference," he said. "He was the same Ben Weider who grew up in a modest little home on Coloniale Avenue."
With the money Weider earned from his family's fitness empire he became a generous benefactor to the Montreal community at large, donating gyms to community centres, including the Centre Père Sablon.
Weider's commitment to sports was essential to his personal philosophy, "that sports is for everybody, whether you're black or white, or Jew or Catholic," said Guy Lepine, the centre's director.
Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, who attended the funeral, called Weider a "great human being."
"It is rare — with a good, great heart, with a lot of great qualities we all know," Bouchard said after the funeral. "Fundamentally, the humanity of this man was striking."
While Bouchard was in office he said he was struck by the Weiders' generosity to help preserve Catholic churches.
"Seeing this man of Jewish faith, giving money for a Catholic temple, we all felt that we had to do something," he said.
Weider also co-authored a bestselling history book about Napoleon, and won the French Legion of Honour for his investigative work into the French political leader's death.
He died less than a week before a new permanent gallery showcasing his Napoleonic artifacts was set to open at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Those at the funeral also included Liberal Senator Serge Joyal, Montreal Canadiens president Pierre Boivin and Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, the archbishop of Montreal.
With files from the Canadian Press