It is said that membership has its privileges.
And I would say it was a privilege indeed to be a member of the National Press Club. It was more than a drinking hole, though as drinking holes go, it had few rivals. It was more than a place where journalists gathered to pick the brains of federal politicians.
The Press Club was like a home and we were a family where stars shone, achievers were appreciated, braggards were put in their place and weirdos were tolerated. For the most part, press club members checked their egos at the door lest they be jeered at, mocked or punched out.
What I loved about the club was that the employees -- the bartenders, servers, maintenance staff -- were not just slaves to the minimum wage; they were family, too. Many a Saturdays would see club members competing with staff in shuffleboard or snooker.
And it wasn't unusual to see Pete Leblanc standing against his vacuum cleaner talking politics with media stars and government flaks. He was never made to feel that he was lesser because his job involved the polishing of taps and the cleaning the toilets after drunken parties.
Often, reporters would say that they liked to talk to Pete because he represented the everyman and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind.
He was smart, well read and caring.
He really wasn't that different from the inmates. Like the media stars he served, Pete worked hard at his job and he took pride at keeping the club spic and span.
Each day, Pete arrived just after six in the morning and set up tables in the various rooms at break neck speed. He kept the club always looking great regardless of the antics that went on the night before.
Pete's job was done by noon hour after which he repaired to his home to relax in his video room which often looked like an electronic control centre with various gaming systems, a big screen television and computer.
Most days, Pete was there all afternoon fighting foes and playing golf with his buddy Lazard with a case of beer and carton of smokes by his side. In latter years, his poison was Root Beer then coffee but other than that, his routine rarely changed.
Cleaner by day, golfer or hockey star by night, Pete was a simple man with simple tastes.
Nothing wrong with that.
I knew Pete as more than the Press Club janitor.
He helped me move from my big house in Orleans to my townhouse in Hunt Club after I was forced to sell following my divorce. It was a sad time for me and the two kids I uprooted (kid three had gone to live with dad). Our dreams were shattered and I was, by my own admission, a broken person.
He helped me around the house at a time when I could barely change a light bulb let alone put up new drapes or paint or build Ikea furniture. Pete was the master of the Allan key. There wasn't anything he couldn't fix and I was grateful for the help.
My townhouse was just down the street from Pete and Brenda, who was the office assistant at the club.
It didn't take long before Brenda and I became fast friends. We made homemade plonk together and drank our share of it in those days as she listened patiently to my troubles. Brenda would help comb Marissa's hair when it was a rat's nest; she could talk Marissa into a lot of things that I couldn't now that I think about it.
The three of us spent a lot of time together, curled up, watching American Idol and Survivor, with Marissa sitting on the floor with paper and crayons.
Meanwhile, Stef was upstairs with Peter and Lazard in the video room playing whatever new game Stef had. Occasionally, it got loud, with the boys whooping it up when somebody scored a goal.
Pete was always happy to take the kids around the neighborhood on Hallowe'en to a secret place he knew, which he nicknamed Hallowe'en alley. Really, it was the projects where poor people lived.
Didn't you know, he'd chuckle. Poor people give out the best -- and most -- candy.
When Stef spent a sad and lonely Christmas in Florida with his dad and stepmom one year, Pete got busy looking for a PlayStation for his little buddy. The new gaming system was impossible to get but Pete found one that an employee had hidden behind a desk at Walmart. When Stef arrived home with a hangdog face and a new nail kit -- his present from his wealthy dad -- the first stop we made was Pete's place where the PlayStation was set up and ready to roll. I was so moved to see Stef hugging Pete, with tears in his eyes.
Pete saved Christmas for my son that year.
What a great guy.
Sure he wasn't much too look at, a tall drink of water with a mullet wearing sweats and a Cleveland Brown's jacket. He was in need of a good dentist, that's for sure.
But once you got to know Pete, you couldn't help but like the guy.
He was loyal and friendly, a man of good humor who was taken too soon.
He died at home after a nice dinner with Brenda, felled by a heart attack.
Pete wasn't much for doctors or dentists, it seems, and he didn't let on that he was having the heart problems that cut his life short, while he was only in his early 50s. Brenda only learned later that bad tickers ran in Pete's family. His own dad died at 30 from a heart attack.
Nobody really knew. Pete was adopted.
In any event, he didn't make a fuss. Just went to bed and it was there he was found.
The coroner told Brenda that Pete didn't suffer. That's always good to hear but it's never much consolation to the people he left behind.
A loving wife, a great group of friends, and an extended family which I'd like to think included us.
We all wanted more time with Pete.
There were still games to beat, football games to watch.
Cigarettes to smoke. Coffee to drink.
But as it is also said, sometimes God needs another angel.
Pete was no angel that's for sure. But he sure will make a great right hand man.
He could fix anything, even the broken heart of a 10-year-old boy.
God Bless Pete.
Thanks for everything.