MONTREAL -- Jacques Demers, the Stanley Cup-winning coach who has spoken frankly about his lifelong battle with illiteracy, was appointed Thursday to the Canadian Senate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the decision and was with the 65-year-old coach at Laval University in Quebec City.
Demers is the last man to coach a Canadian team to the Stanley Cup, a feat achieved in 1993 in his first year behind the Montreal Canadiens' bench. Demers also coached Quebec, St. Louis, Detroit and Tampa Bay.
"I think Jacques is a great politician," joked Steve Yzerman, the NHL star who played under Demers.
Demers, a Conservative, said he was contacted about the post by Harper's representatives July 13. He is part of group of new senators that includes an array of prominent Canadians and some of the prime minister's closest political confidants. There are usually 105 senators in the Senate, the upper chamber of Canada's Parliament.
The jovial, backslapping coach was startled by the turn of events.
"I've worked so hard these last four years to improve my reading and writing. All of a sudden, they name me senator. It's just incredible," he said on the Web site of RDS TV, where he's a hockey analyst. "I always worked hard in my life. First, to become a coach. Then in broadcasting. I was able to demonstrate that despite a limited education, you can accomplish good things."
He has said that as recently as 2005 he could only write his name and a few words. That year Demers revealed he was a functional illiterate in a biography written by journalist Mario LeClerc.
Demers would hire assistants to review hockey contracts and pretended to read notes while on TV. He even managed to hide his illiteracy from his wife, pretending to be busy when bills arrived in the mail and asking her to look after them.
Demers has since learned to read and can go through hockey stories in the newspaper. Other things take longer and require greater concentration and quiet.
In a 2007 interview with The Canadian Press, Demers said he was buoyed that others were coming forward because of his example.
"We're all scared to express ourselves because if we do we're all scared of the backlash," he said.