Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Remembering hockey's dynamic duo: Colleen and Gordie Howe

They were known as the first couple of hockey. I spoke with them when he was 60 and she was 64. Even at that age, if you thought that meant it was time to hang up the skates, you’re wrong. Retirement for the Howes meant freedom to pursue an avalanche of projects. Colleen and Gordie had only begun to tap into their goals.

In the book of who’s who in the hockey world, Gordie Howe is at the top of the list. Gordie was known for his aggressive style and earned the name “Mr. Elbows” when he took ownership of the National Hockey League’s corners and boards for 32 seasons. After 25 years as a Detroit Red Wing, he retired until an opportunity to play with his sons brought him back to the arena two years later, where he suited up for seven more seasons with the Houston Aeros and the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association. He retired for good at the age of 52.

His accomplishments in hockey include 1071 goals and 2589 career points in 2421 games, plus numerous titles and awards. His most cherished moment was completing the family circle.

“Your first game’s always a great thrill, your first All-Star and Stanley Cup appearances too, but when I played with Mark and Marty the first time in Houston, I was so excited the night before that I ended up in traction with back muscle spasms!”

In Howe’s playing days with Detroit, it wasn’t easy to make a living in sports.

“We didn’t get paid enough money to relax in any one way so in the summer, I’d get a job. You could basically make the same in an ordinary job as you did with the club.”

Times have obviously changed. However, the Howes' need to work extra jobs helped paved the transition to retirement.

Colleen Howe was the constant businesswoman. Her introduction to hockey was through Gordie, and she contributed to his career by doing the things he didn’t like. She was soon negotiating player contracts for her husband and sons, Mark and Marty. She also founded and managed America’s first Junior A hockey team, the Detroit Junior Red Wings, in addition to many other notable business ventures that included running for Congress. While she loved the game of hockey, her reputation as a power maker invited criticism from hockey’s male population.

“Sometimes I’m perceived as this lecherous person who has Gordie hog-tied somewhere, and I’m pointing my finger in his face and telling him what to do. I soon discovered to do things quietly rather than make some kind of a big show. When I spotted an opportunity, I would plant the seed with someone who would think it was their idea and make it happen. Ultimately, it would help us.”

Since Gordie’s professional playing career ended, the Howes had been involved with many charity events and fundraisers. Power Play International Inc. is the umbrella for many of their business interests. Colleen as president was the idea person who developed and oversaw projects, while vice-president, Gordie, looked after the public relations aspect.

The Howe Foundation was created as a non-profit organization to raise money for charities and groups that help improve the quality of life for children. Proceeds from the sale of their book, "and…Howe!" were directed to this cause.

The Howes made over 100 annual appearances for speaking engagements, book signings, and fundraisers. In order to maintain their hectic schedule, health and fitness played active roles.

“I still play hockey and golf, though I’m not any good at it anymore because of age and ability,” admitted Gordie at the time of the interview. “When we played golf in Grand Rapids, the conditions were cold and wet, but then you stop and think about the people we were playing for – they can’t even get up on their feet.”

Colleen’s daily pace would have been hard for most people to keep up to. If she got the chance, she liked to jog or walk, and she stood while she worked. Her advice to others was to think about what you want to do with your life and how you might want to achieve it.

“If you get out of balance, you will lose touch with the many important things in your life that make a difference,” said Colleen.

That meant paying attention to family. She considered herself fortunate that they produced four great kids (Mark, Marty, Murray, and Cathy).

“Two things in life you really don’t get schooling at are how to keep a marriage together and how to raise children. I think we’ve made a good team and the trophies in our house are our four children.”

Sadly, after 49 years of marriage, Colleen Howe was diagnosed with Pick's Disease, which causes a deepening dementia to which there is no cure and even no medication that helps.


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