Even as he battles pancreatic cancer, television legend Alex Trebek was in great spirits during his visit to the nation’s capital Monday for the official opening of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s gorgeous new headquarters along the Ottawa River.
He only recently completed his final chemotherapy treatment, the room heard. “That stuff really kicks the slats out of you,” Trebek, 78, told everyone at 50 Sussex.
The long-time host of Jeopardy! and proud Canadian is honorary president of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting and enhancing public awareness for Canada's geography. It's primarily funded by donors.
The RCGS took possession of the vacant National Capital Commission space (formerly the Canada and World Pavilion building) before renovating it and turning the building into Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration. He and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the new plaque commemorating the official opening, while joined on stage by The RCGS's chief executive officer, John Geiger, and its honorary vice president, anthropologist and author Wade Davis.
The place boasts floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Ottawa River and Gatineau Hills and is currently the best-kept secret in town for hosting small to medium gatherings.
Trebek, a native of Sudbury, studied philosophy at the University of Ottawa.
He described his visit to Ottawa as “a culmination of a fantastic two weeks” that started with a hopeful interview he did on Good Morning America about his Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. He also became an honorary member of The Harvard Lampoon, stood alongside pancreatic cancer survivors at a fundraising walk in Los Angeles, won his seventh Emmy award, finished his chemo, escorted his wife, real estate manager Jean Currivan Trebek, to a Mother’s Day-related dinner, and was a guest this past weekend on Jane Pauley’s CBS Sunday Morning Show.
“And now today, I’m here for this very special dedication with the prime minister of Canada. Hey guys, my cup runneth over.
“But — and there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there,” he added before lamenting the fact that there are no Canadian teams left in the NHL playoffs.
“Prêt pour l’année prochaine," said Trebek before giving a quick shout out to the Toronto Raptors basketball team and its successful season.
Trebek commended the prime minister for continuing with the work started by the previous Harper government to make 50 Sussex a new home for The RCGS.
When it was his turn at the podium, Trudeau told the room how his father didn’t allow him and his brothers to watch much television when they were growing up. The one show they were permitted to tune into was Jeopardy (it started airing in 1984, when Trudeau was 12). “It became such a part of our routine,” said Trudeau, who kept a scoring system with his brothers while they played along.
(Speaking of Jeopardy!, current champ James Holzhauer is on a break until next Monday as the show features its annual teachers tournament. Holzhauer has, so far, won close to $1.7 million and set numerous single-show records during his history-making run on the popular game show).
The prime minister spoke about his government’s efforts to “step up” the protection of the environment, from putting a price on pollution that causes climate change, to creating new marine-protected areas to safeguard oceans, to making its largest-ever investment in nature conservation.
Serving as emcee was Carole Saad, vice president of events at 50 Sussex and one busy businesswoman. She's president of LouLou Lounge furniture rentals and also runs Chic & Swell Creative Meetings and Events.
Guests included Canada’s first female astronaut, Roberta Bondar, undersea explorer Joe MacInnis and such current RCGS explorers-in-residence as Jill Heinerth, Ray Zahab and George Kourounis. NCC chief executive Tobi Nussbaum, Mayor Jim Watson and Liberal Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier were there. So was Ottawa wildlife and adventure photographer Michelle Valberg, who is a Fellow with The RCGS and its Canadian Geographic photographer-in-residence. Valberg was later seen being greeted by Trebek with a double-cheek kiss.
Other Fellows included Nature Canada vice chair Sheefra Brisbin and her prominent architect husband, Ritchard Brisbin. Honorary fellow Sheila Copps, a former deputy prime minister in the Chrétien government, was there with her granddaughter, Caroline Clarke. Supporters also included Ottawa community leader Grete Hale.