"I don't like it," says his wife Barbara, a gum-popping, fast-talking young lady not far removed from the teeny-bopper ranks. "I wish he would get something real bushy with long sideburns and everything." Filion seems well satisfied with his more conservative model. In fact, he is considering wearing it later this fall to the ceremony where he will be decorated by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with the Order of Canada, an honor bestowed on citizens for outstanding performance.
When he is his normal balding self, Filion bears a strong resemblance to Peter Boyle, the hard hat of the movie Joe. He has a short, stocky frame and a herky-jerky Chaplinesque strut. The charming, even amusing figure he cuts is misleading, however. A friend says, "Put Herve at a pool table or behind a horse and he is one of the smartest, toughest men in the world. That's all he's ever known."
Filion grew up on a farm near Angers, a village not far from Ottawa. His father, a sometime truck driver, was in harness racing, too, and earned a reputation as a mighty sharp man around a track. "I've heard some funny stories about the old man," says a Filion friend. "Like he was supposed to have painted a white horse black to get him into a certain race, and it would have worked, except it rained."
"The old man is sort of a hayseed city slicker," says another acquaintance. "He used to be ruled off Canadian tracks regularly. So were several of his sons. There are 10 children, eight of them boys. They grew up in very humble surroundings, sometimes three boys in a bed and two horses in a stall, that sort of thing. But they have always been extremely close." This year, to celebrate Papa Filion's 61st birthday and 37th wedding anniversary, the Filion children presented him with a Cadillac Fleetwood and gave their mother a diamond ring.
"You talk about work," Herve Filion says, "my father was a worker. And real generous to every one of us. We didn't have much, but he never left us broke. He's a real good man but, of course, that runs in the family. We're all nice guys.
"When I was a kid I used to run all the way home at lunchtime to work with the horses and then run back to school. I didn't play hockey like other kids. I went to the barns, nowhere else." Herve quit school after the fifth grade and at 13 began driving horses professionally.
"I saw him win a race in Ottawa when he was 14," says Mike Sherman, a Filion assistant. "His feet didn't reach the stirrups. But even then he could do things nobody else could do. I predicted that someday he would be world champion. Do you remember that, Herve?"
"Huh," says Filion, "I knew I'd be a champion when I was 11."
The brothers followed their father into harness racing, and the name Filion became well known in Canada—perhaps notorious is a better term. They were harsh competitors, and Herve was no exception. Between 1957 and 1964 he was suspended nine times in the U.S. and Canada for violating racing rules. His brother Rheo is currently barred from harness racing tracks and the family generally is not very popular. As Herve came to drive more—and win more—at U.S. raceways, some horsemen began to complain about his driving tactics. In July 1965, Presiding Judge Milt Taylor of Liberty Bell set Filion down for 12 days for a driving infraction, and the U.S. Trotting Association picked up his license for "repeated violations." That proved to be a turning point. Immediately after his USTA suspension a contrite Filion approached Taylor and asked for help in getting his license restored.
"He sounded sincere," says Taylor, "so I decided to help him. He was only 25, and I hated to see a boy with so much talent get messed up so young. When you look at Filion's record, you see that most of the trouble occurred between the ages of 15 and 25. Not every one of us is stable during those years." So Filion got his license back and, says Taylor, "he hasn't been in any trouble to speak of since."