Pierre and Margaret Trudeau made a splash on their White House visits

By Rob Gillies, The Associated Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Washington this week for the first state dinner for a Canadian leader in almost 20 years. His father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was invited to Washington many times during his tenure as prime minister, and he and Margaret Trudeau made a splash.


Pierre Trudeau swept to power in 1968 on a wave of support called “Trudeaumania.” The charming, flamboyant Trudeau embraced progressive ideals in the revolutionary 1960s. President Richard Nixon noted the intense interest in Trudeau during his speech at a state dinner at the White House, saying that “you have been for your own people a very exciting personality.”

Trudeau, who flashed intelligence and wit, provided one of the most famous lines in Canadian history at the National Press Club when he offered his take on sharing a continent with the United States. “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant,” he said. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”


Nixon insulted Trudeau to aides in now-famous, privately tape-recorded conversations before and after his meeting with Trudeau at the White House in 1971. After the meeting, Nixon calls Trudeau a “pompous egghead.” Trudeau responded to that and other reported Nixon insults by later saying, “I have been called worse things by better people.”


At a White House state dinner hosted by new President Jimmy Carter in 1977, Margaret Trudeau made headlines by wearing a dress that ended about two inches below the knee. First Lady Rosalynn Carter and other women wore floor-length gowns. Margaret also had a run in her pantyhose that made it appear racy.

In her memoir “Changing her Mind,” Margaret described reading a newspaper that said she had “insulted the American public in general and Mrs. Carter in particular by being improperly dressed.” She responded by wearing a very short, skin-tight dress the next night when they hosted the Carters at a dinner in Washington.


Margaret Trudeau wrote in her memoir that she had a romance with Senator Ted Kennedy. During the 1977 visit to Washington, she sat listening to her husband’s speech before Congress while feeling “torn between an intense need for him and a longing for Ted Kennedy.”

She later arranged a “discreet meeting with Teddy” in his office, where they drank wine. Margaret said she became infatuated with Kennedy after meeting him a few years earlier. She told Kennedy that he “had not destroyed my marriage but that I had used him to help me destroy a marriage that was already over.”

Just weeks later Margaret, who had then-undiagnosed mental illness, left her husband to party with the Rolling Stones in Toronto. The marriage ended soon after that.


After an official in President Ronald Reagan’s administration disparaged Pierre Trudeau’s attempts to spur arms-reduction talks with the Soviets as “akin to pot-induced behaviour by an erratic leftist,” and after anonymous U.S. defence officials dismissed his peace attempts, Trudeau brushed aside the comments as coming from Pentagon “pipsqueaks” a day before his 1983 visit to the White House.

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