DETROIT -- Among the many hockey dignitaries who came to Detroit for Gordie Howe's funeral, there was a local man who played a special role.
Deacon Bill Jamieson is not only from the east side of Detroit, he grew up a hockey fan and eventually became the Red Wings' public relations director from 1982 to 1996.
"I grew up watching Gordie play," Jamieson said. "He was my idol growing up as a player. I had a No. 9 jersey just like Wayne Gretzky did. So I grew up watching him. I remember the first time I met him, it was '82, my first year with the team and gosh, I think after about 10 minutes I felt like I had known him for 10 years.
"As much in awe of him as I was at first, he was just a nice person. I was very comfortable around him."
Although he left the team after the 1996 season, Jamieson remained friends with Howe and his family, so it was fitting that Jamieson was at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament Wednesday, helping Reverend JJ Mech, Reverend Gregory Deters and Reverend Monsignor Gary Smetanka with Howe's memorial mass.
"I had talked to Father JJ," Jamieson said after the service. "I had assisted at Colleen's funeral in '09 at St. Hugo of the Hills. I obviously knew the family. I didn't bother them up until today, they were pretty busy. So it was just great to be with Murray and Marty and Mark and Cathleen and then their grandkids. It was just special to be with them."
Mark Howe said it meant a lot to his family to have Jamieson there.
"It was wonderful because he was also part of my mother’s service," Mark Howe said. "We’ve known Bill for a long, long time and when you’re working with people they have a special bond. They know the people that we’re giving remembrance to so it gives special feeling to the family as well."
Like everyone in attendance, Jamieson had special memories of being around Howe.
"I always remember sitting in the press box and all of a sudden I'd feel this elbow in the back," Jamieson said, laughing. "I didn't have to turn, I knew who it was. That's how Gordie always said hello."
Jamieson also laughed when talking about a game in Philadelphia that Howe attended to watch his son, Mark, who was playing for the Flyers at the time.
"He was sitting around the press room in Philadelphia and it was before the game," Jamieson said. "And someone said, 'How many goals do you think Rocket Richard would get now?' He said, 'Oh, about 20.' They said, '20?' He said, 'After all, the man's about 60 years old.' I'm sure he told that story before."
Jamieson said although Howe was known as Mr. Hockey, it wasn't his only interest.
"He'd always ask about your family," Jamieson said. "We didn't really talk about hockey with him. He'd always ask about your family, how's your family, how many kids you got now and how are the grandkids?"
Jamieson and his wife had six daughters, all of whom are grown now, and have 16 grandchildren ranging in age from five weeks to 16 years.
It was a full-circle moment for Jamieson to be able to assist at Howe's funeral.
"It definitely was an honor," Jamieson said. "Gordie was so special, not only to me but to my family. Just a wonderful person. I just enjoyed spending time with him. He was just a wonderful person. When they say he was a better person than a hockey player, as great of a hockey player as he was -- and he was the greatest -- he was just a wonderful person. I mean, he treated everybody the same. That's a cliche so often but in his case, it's true."