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Howes appreciate 'outpouring of support'

Son Marty thanks Red Wings, fans, friends for celebrating Gordie's life

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

DETROIT -- Marty Howe pondered when, after this remarkable, painful, uplifting week is behind him, he might come back down to earth and put the passing of his legendary father into perspective.

"I'm assuming it will be never," Howe said Wednesday afternoon. "Right now, it's overwhelming, and I have to take it all in. But Gordie will be with us forever."

The Howe family and hundreds of special guests, from hockey luminaries to dear, decades-long friends, gathered at Tiger Club at Comerica Park following Gordie Howe's funeral service.

Howe died Friday at age 88.

Well-wishers gently wrapped themselves around the family Wednesday, sharing stories and offering kind thoughts after a funeral that followed a physically demanding and emotionally draining day-long visitation for Mr. Hockey at Joe Louis Arena.

"It was 12 hours and 40 minutes," Howe said of the marathon visitation, thousands of fans streaming into the arena to pay their respects to arguably the greatest all-around player in hockey history. "I had to shut it off, at the end of the line, because we were going to be near 10 o'clock (13 hours from its start)."

This is so fresh to Marty Howe that in conversation he sometimes slipped from the past to the present tense while he spoke about his father.

"It just makes you proud to see the people coming and giving their respect to Gordie," he said. "He deserves it. He's a man of few words, but everything he says is good advice worth listening to. That's what we've learned. I've had no time to enjoy this tremendous outpouring of support. It has all happened so fast."

Howe extended thanks to Detroit Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch and their son, Christopher, for having taken virtually everything off the family's hands, and "for the love and respect they've given Gordie."

"The only thing we did was get the church," he said of Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. "Everything you've seen has been the Illitches.

"I have not had a chance to see the news reports, the papers or the TV. I have all my friends recording everything so I know I can cry for a week when I go home. But it's been, for me, a celebration of Gordie's life.

"It's been a joy to see so many people coming out and telling all these stories about how Gordie has touched their lives, stories that really have nothing to do with hockey. It's just the man that he was. He brought us up that way, to have respect to help others. I don't know if we can live up to what he expects, but we're trying."

Video: Gordie Howe's life eulogized by son Dr. Murray Howe

Marty Howe's brother Murray delivered a poignant and at times humorous eulogy that perfectly captured the spirit of their mischievous father. Mark Howe spoke with the media outside the church following the service and dissolved in tears.

"I don't know how Mark did that," Marty said of his brother wading into a crowd of reporters as their father's coffin left the church. "There's no way I could.

"I was crying through Murray's whole darn eulogy. It started with the choir; they were beautiful. When they got going, oh my gosh, I went through two boxes of Kleenex. I should have brought a towel. Then Murray started, and I went through another half a box. When it got to the service, I was out of tears, so I could listen to people again.

"I'm so happy for Gordie. I didn't want him to suffer. He went peacefully."

Gordie's health slid the last two weeks of his life, and his three sons, daughter, Cathy, and the extended Howe family shuffled their lives to be at his side.

Marty Howe will miss many things about his father, and that Father's Day falls this weekend won't make things any easier.

"He's so easygoing. He loves people, he engages with people, he'll go out of his way to engage people where others go through life and say, 'Leave me alone,'" he said. "Growing up, I'd stay 10 feet behind Gordie walking down the sidewalk and I'd hear all the conversations: 'Go get his autograph!' 'I can't do that!' Some people were afraid of him, but if they knew, they'd have found a wonderful person. He'd sign it in a second. He may tweak your ear or rub your head, but he'll sign your autograph."

And Marty Howe surely will never look at a fishing rod the same way again.

"I'll really miss my fishing partner," he said, his grief now barely contained. "After the season, he'd take Mark and me up to some lake. They'd fly us in there for 10 days with no radio, no electricity. Nothing. It was you and the fish and the bears in the woods. We had to catch fish because we needed to eat, that's what it came down to. You could bathe in the lake if you could take the cold.

"Gordie never yells at us. He always gives us good advice, lets us go our way and live our lives, and try to give us a little steer here and there. He taught us the school of life. He was a beautiful man."

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