November 21, 2012

A great man’s passing marks the end of an era

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor,
Writing from Montreal

When a man of high character, such as retired Det.-Sgt. Albert Lisacek, passes from this earthly existence, our first reaction is one of mourning because some of us appreciate how this humble, brave police officer put his life on the line for 25 years with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), protecting ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

There are still many among us in Quebec who lived through the tumultuous decades of the 60s and 70s, recalling vividly the loss of innocence we all felt when on October 17, 1970 FLQ terrorists strangled to death Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, likely with his own crucifix chain, and then stuffed his body in a stolen car abandoned near the St. Hubert airport on the South Shore of Montreal.

At that time, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said of the “cowardly” assassination that “I can’t help feeling as a Canadian a deep sense of shame that this cruel and senseless act should have been conceived in cold blood and executed in like manner .”

A tearful Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau said of Laporte’s killing at the time: “Is it a warning addressed to all those who hold public office that they will not only be suppressed or assassinated but that it will be done in the most cruel manner?”

Parti Quebecois leader René Levesque, himself an exemplary social democrat throughout his careers as a journalist and politician, had this to say: “Speaking for the Parti Quebecois we find completely intolerable Mr. Laporte’s barbaric execution by people who have no sense of humanity and who don’t reflect Quebec .”

Albert Lisacek gave no speeches at that time. Instead, he swung into action with an elite SQ unit, which found and arrested three of Laporte’s kidnappers on December 27, 1970, hiding in a tunnel under a farmhouse in St. Luc, Quebec.

I followed Albert’s police career when I worked as a journalist for daily media, such as The Canadian Press, The Montreal Star and The Gazette. But it was more than three decades after Albert took his retirement in 1981 that I finally learned all the details of his police career, including how he helped track down and capture the FLQ terrorists. When we reconnected in May 2012, I interviewed him over several weeks for a 17,000-word profile about his amazing police career which we have posted on the home page of our website.

Albert brought justice to a world of criminality where bullies beat those who are often defenseless. He was a big, robust man who gave those bullies a taste of their own medicine. Law-breakers called him “Dirty Albert”. Respectful police colleagues nicknamed him “Little Albert”. And in 1972, Canadian Magazine wrote an article on his exploits, anointing him “Canada’s Toughest Cop”.

Albert was a man of few words. So it came as no surprise to me that when he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer on November 1, 2012, he was stoic and never complained. His only comment when told he had three to six months to live was the rhetorical question: “What can you do?”

Even the doctors and nurses in the palliative care unit at the Jewish General Hospital had to ask him whether he had pain and needed more morphine because he was not one to take the initiative in letting them know how he felt. His beloved wife, Jackie, made all sorts of plans to get him back home and treat him with natural remedies to try to prolong his life when traditional doctors said there was nothing more they could do.

But his cancer was too far advanced for him to return home, and Albert knew it. I and his friend, Bill, brought him books, mostly Westerns, because he was an avid reader.

Each time I visited him in the two weeks he was at the Jewish General Hospital, I noted a steady decline in his condition. But he was always happy when I arrived, greeting me with the words: “How ya doing kid? What’s new?” When our visits drew to an end, he’d extend his hand, crush my fingers in his powerful grip and say: “Thanks for coming. I really appreciate it.”

That was the thing about Albert. He appreciated the little things in life, which, in reality, are the most memorable: sitting in a rocker in the country air, yakking with his few close friends, and in the old days, when he had his beloved dogs, their gentle muzzles pushing against him accentuated by their wet kisses on hands and arms. Of course, nothing could beat an embrace from his angel, Jackie, who was always by his side with a few “bons mots” to cheer his spirits.

One thing that struck me from the time he learned of his cancer until his death the night of November 20, 2012, was the way the weather cooperated, as though God was saying to Albert that his final weeks on earth would reflect the subtle, earthy beauty of a sunny, warm fall afternoon with its muted hues. Almost every day the first three weeks of this month was sunny and warm, bringing to mind the prose of Chinese writer and inventor Lin Yutang (1895-1976), who was fluent in both Chinese and English. This is how Yutang described autumn:

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its tone is mellower, its colours are richer, and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and its content.

Albert, who turned 79 on July 13, 2012, had also experienced mellowness, wisdom and the limitations of life as he entered his 80th year just over four months ago. He had lived fully and honestly, accomplishing much in his quest to protect those less physically powerful than himself.

I last saw him at 6:45 p.m. on the night of November 20, 2012 in his hospital room. He was having difficulty breathing due to fluid buildup in his lungs. Although he was too weak to speak, he still acknowledged me with his eyes as I sat in the chair by his side.

When I left at 7:30 p.m., I think we both knew that it would be the last time we would see each other on this earth. He died less than 4 1/2 hours later. Normally, I would have told him goodbye and promised to call or see him the next day. This last time, I left wordlessly, not wanting to say goodbye and with the deeply-held belief that one day we will meet again.

[See teaser below]

Published: JULY 2012
Little Albert’s whacky world of bullets, beatings and bad guys

Writing from Montreal

It’s no fun losing your testicles in a shootout with Canada’s toughest cop. But then again, Det.-Sgt. Albert Lisacek was never known as a guy with a sense of humour during his 25 years with the Sûreté du Québec. Now the outspoken Lisacek tells the real story of cops’n’robbers in the ’60s and ’70s, including what happened just before infamous killer Richard Blass was shot dead by police, the last moments of Machine Gun Molly and his near-death experience with Jacques Mesrine, Public Enemy No. 1 in France.

17,127 Words | 66 Photos | 2 Illustrations

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