MONTREAL -- It's time that legendary Detroit Red Wings forward Ted Lindsay had his nickname brought up to date. "Terrible Ted," as he was known during his clenched-fist, take-no-prisoners playing days from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s, has been "Terrific Ted" for a long time now.
On Wednesday, the rugged 91-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer with the butter-soft, oversized heart was on hand for the official opening of the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center in Southfield, Michigan. A $1 million donation from the hockey icon's fund-raising efforts had played a huge role in the creation of the building, a sprawling, state-of-the-art facility that among many things offers speech pathology and other services to children with autism spectrum disorders and other learning and developmental disorders.
"There are many medical terms and I'm not smart enough to understand them, so I'll just keep working at it," Lindsay said with a soft laugh Thursday from his Detroit-area home. "The one thing I know how to do is raise money."
Since the creation of the Ted Lindsay Foundation in 2001, Lindsay and his partners have raised more than $3.5 million through celebrity golf tournaments, wine tastings and myriad events to which he tirelessly continues to invest his time.
It was when a young son of family friend John Czarnecki was diagnosed with autism that Lindsay focused on research into the disorder and care for those afflicted, and their families. His foundation's mission is simply stated: "To raise money and funds to support research and educational programs, focusing on the cause and management of autism spectrum disorders."
"We've been trying to unravel the mystery of what autism is in this world," said Lindsay, who began his charitable work with a facility in Austin, Texas.
In 2012, the Beaumont HOPE Center, part of the Beaumont Children's Center, came to his attention, and he dipped his toe into support with a $64,000 donation to provide iPads to help facilitate communication for otherwise silent children.
"To me, iPads don't mean a thing," Lindsay said at the time. "But they mean an awful lot to the doctors and the kids. A kid who couldn't communicate in words took the iPad and wrote, 'Mom, I love you.' That was the first time the mother had seen that. Never heard it, but she saw it. Can you imagine what kind of feeling that would be?"
A relationship flourished between Lindsay, the HOPE Center and Dr. Lori Warner, the director of the center that now bears the hockey great's name. Lindsay was soon funding scholarships for children's therapy sessions and support for their families.
The annual Ted Lindsay/Sergei Fedorov Courage Award financially rewards an individual and a family who are particularly inspiring as they live with the huge challenges of autism.
"Sergei writes a check of thousands of dollars of his own money every year to replenish the award," Lindsay said. "Nobody hears about that.
"Now our building is open and we hope that Dr. Warner has everything that she needs. And anything that she doesn't have, she only has to ask. It's beautiful and I'm proud of it."
Lindsay liberally spreads credit for his foundation's work among those working alongside him, especially his wife, Joanne, their daughter Lynn and her husband, Lew LaPaugh. But it is Lindsay's personal touch, Dr. Warner says, that makes his incredible ongoing gift so special, something that now brings many services under one roof.
"He's 91 but he's so active and he cares so much," she said. "Mr. Lindsay will pop in randomly to say hi to the kids, to see how they are, to see if I need anything. It's a very personal connection. He wants to see what's happening."
For formerly Terrible Ted, there's a bit of selfish satisfaction in all of this, work that will touch lives he will never know.
"This has all been a wonderful lesson for me," he said. "I've been lucky all my life."