Friday, 6 March 2009

Mrs. Hockey

I had to bump my article today for this piece because it really needs mention. The hockey world lost an icon today as Gordie Howe's best teammate, his wife Colleen, passed away on Friday. Colleen was a trailblazer in hockey, becoming one of the first female sports agents in the history of sports. Diagnosed at the spry age of 70, Mrs. Howe battled Pick's Disease since 2002, an incurable neurological form of dementia, but she was still the lit up a room when she entered. Gordie's best teammate was highly-respected, and a true giver when it came to the game of hockey. The world will miss the Howe matriarch, and this writer wishes her family all the best during their time of grieving.

"Colleen was a pioneer hockey wife and hockey mom and devoted her entire life to the betterment of the game," Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch said to The Associated Press.

Born Colleen Joffa in 1933 in Sanducsky, Michigan, the future Mrs. Howe was living in Detroit when she met Gordie Howe in April 1950 at the Detroit bowling alley Lucky Strike Lanes. On April 15, 1953, Gordie Howe and Colleen Joffa were married. Gordie Howe's career was highlighted by his skill, but, during a 1999 interview, he stated that his transition to life after hockey was due to "Colleen's ideas and representation."

She was a businesswoman when she wasn't watching hockey. Some of the various career choices she made included stints as an award-winning video producer, life insurance saleswoman, ran for the US House in Connecticut, owned cattle and llamas, and owned a travel agency, and owned Amway distributorships. She trademarked their nicknames - "Mr. Hockey" and "Mrs. Hockey" - protecting their likenesses from being used without their knowledge. She founded and was president of Power Play International Inc. and Power Play Publications Inc., two companies that managed her and her husband's many interests and affairs.

She literally did all she could for the game of hockey, including providing two sons to the game. Colleen was instrumental in founding the first junior hockey team in the United States in the Detroit Junior Red Wings. She was also general manager for the Junior Red Wings for three years. She was a key figure in getting the "Gordie Howe Hockeyland", the first indoor arena in the United States, opened in St. Clare Shores, a suburb of Detroit. Because of her efforts, she was the first woman inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

Colleen was named Sportswoman of the Year in Detroit in 1972, a reflection on all she was doing for hockey in the city of Detroit.

In 1973, Mrs. Howe discovered a clause in the WHA's Collective Bargaining Agreement that allowed players younger than 20 to play professionally - something the NHL did not allow. She encouraged her husband, Mr. Hockey, to suit up with his sons, Mark and Marty, in the WHA. She also acted as Gordie's agent in negotiations with the WHA's Houston Aeros, and, later, the New England Whalers. It was Colleen Howe who got her husband and two boys on the same team when she negotiated a four-year, US$1.8-million package deal for them to sign in 1974 with the Houston Aeros.

"I've dealt with quite a few agents and she rates very highly," Whalers president Howard Baldwin said. Because of the assurances made by the Whalers, Colleen urged her sons and husband to sign with New England over the NHL's Boston Bruins. The Bruins were especially interested in Mark Howe, who would go on to have an extremely successful NHL career in Hartford, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

In 1979, the Hartford Chamber of Commerce gave her an award for outstanding community achievement, another reflection on her generosity with her time and effort.

The Howes also had two more children: Cathy and Murray. Cathy is a horse enthusiast in Montana, while Murray became a doctor, specializing as a radiologist in Toledo, Ohio. Murray actually helped to treat his mother after she was diagnosed with Pick's Disease.

Colleen Howe has also penned three books. Her most recent book, And... Howe!, was a family autobiography co-authored and published by Mrs. Howe. And... Howe! has become the best selling hockey hardcover autobiography ever and the best selling self-published sports biography ever - no small feat for any author!

The Howes have raised over $1 million for charity through the Howe Foundation. The Howe Foundation works to help underprivileged children "to be able to enjoy, participate and learn about the great sport of hockey". Through the foundation, Colleen was able to give Steven Kirkpatrick, "the world's greatest hockey fan", a van to help him travel. Mr. Kirkpatrick is afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy.

"The new van has changed my life," said Steven. "It has given me the mobility to not only complete my daily routines, but to travel to places I never thought I would go. Thanks to the Howes."

In 2001 she and Gordie received the Wayne Gretzky Award from the United States Hockey Hall of Fame for their contributions to hockey in the U.S.

Today, the efforts of Gordie and Colleen Howe have not been forgotten. There is the Howe Arena in Traverse City, Michigan, and there also is the Colleen and Gordie Howe Middle School in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The arena in Sandusky, Michigan has been renamed the Colleen J. Howe Arena in Mrs. Howe's honour.

Colleen Howe leaves behind nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. She received a fantastic nickname from grandson Travis who called her "Honey". When he was a youngster, Travis was told what was in a plastic bear container on the Howe kitchen table. Gordie lovingly wrapped his arm around Colleen that morning and said to Travis, "And this is my honey", thus giving Mrs. Hockey her sweet name.

I wish nothing but the best to the Howe family in their time of grieving. May you be blessed like Colleen was, and may she rest eternally in peace. She was an amazing woman, a loyal friend, and the best teammate your family could have ever had.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Howe. This writer truly looks up to you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace Mrs. Hockey. I'm sure that if Ken Baker's book title is true- That they don't play hockey in heaven, it won't be long before you organize the team and start getting a rink built.