Marty (L) and Mark Howe (R) are helped by Gordie Howe's grandsons in carrying the hockey legend's casket out of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Wednesday. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)
DETROIT – Murray Howe recalled the time he asked his famous father what he wanted him to say when it came time to deliver the hockey icon’s eulogy.
“Say this,” Gordie Howe told his youngest of four children, “finally … the end of the third period.” Then the greatest player in Red Wings’ history added, “I hope there’s a good hockey team in heaven.”
Any celestial team with Mr. Hockey on the roster should automatically receive an upgrade to great.
But the best all-around player to ever lace up a pair of skates, Howe was remembered Wednesday for being more than a great hockey player; perhaps the best the world has ever known.
Approximately 800 family members, friends, hockey dignitaries and other admirers jammed the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit to celebrate Howe, not only for what he meant to the game but to the world.
Howe’s funeral at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament was magnificent, elegant, and beautiful. It was perfect in every way, from the liturgy to the sacred music of the three choirs that performed angelically. It was truly befitting Howe who was adored by everyone he touched during his 88-year life.
An incredible sampling of hockey’s well known attended the service, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, Calgary president Brian Burke, Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello, several current and former Red Wings, as well as hockey royals Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer.
Other guests included Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Christopher Ilitch, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and NBC announcer Doc Emrick.
Murray Howe’s poignant and heartwarming eulogy focused on his father’s many virtues and the life lessons that he and his three siblings – Marty, Mark and Cathy – all learned from their parents, Gordie and Colleen Howe.
Humility, selflessness, patience and thoughtfulness were points on Howe’s moral compass and just a few of the areas that Murray Howe covered during a 27-minute eulogy that he gave before the start of the funeral mass officiated by Father J.J. Mech.
Nearly every story shared by Murray Howe featured a humorous component, another of Mr. Hockey’s admirable characteristics.
“A man came over for an autograph and a woman saw him signing something and she rushed over and said, ‘Are you somebody famous?’ ” said Murray, describing his humble dad. “He said no, I just used to babysit that guy” while pointing, presumably, at Murray.
Murray spoke of his dad’s selflessness, saying about the man who scored 801 goals during a 26-season NHL career, “He never accepted credit for any of his accomplishments. He credited God, his family, his friends, coaches, docs, trainers, his teammates, and he never had a bad thing to say about anyone, except for referees.”
Gordie Howe was always tolerant and accommodating, leading Murray to say, “no matter how bad the circumstances never once did I hear him raise his voice. He didn’t need to. If a fan told him a story he would not interrupt, no matter how long they spoke. And he would not correct them, even if they insisted they watched him play in the Summer Olympics in 1906. He accepted everyone for who they were, unless they were a boy with long hair. Then they got a lecture.”
A giving, caring man, Howe was a gift to everybody, not just his teammates, like Ted Lindsay and Frank Mahovlich, who attended the funeral. Mr. Hockey genuinely cared about everyone he met, neighbors, fans, grocery store clerks, and reporters.
He adored Colleen Howe, his cherished wife of 55 years, and a twinkle would come to his eye when he spoke about his children. Colleen died in 2009.
So thoughtful was Howe throughout his life that he cared about the legibility of his autograph because he wanted fans to be able to read it. But for all of his humility, selflessness, patience and thoughtfulness, Howe had a wicked sense of humor that sometimes worked in reverse.
“He held doors open for everyone,” said Murray, the head of radiology at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. “Even in his last years after his stroke he would go to the aid of ladies and help them unload their grocery cart. He would never touch his food without first offering it to those around him, even at his last meal. He would sweep the neighbor’s driveway and my neighbor came home and took a picture of him and said, ‘How important am I? Gordie Howe is sweeping my driveway.’
Sometimes his helpfulness backfired. He opened the door for one woman and she said, ‘I didn’t ask you to do that.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were a lady.’ He shoveled his neighbor’s driveway of about a foot of snow and the neighbor came out and said, ‘I never asked you to do that,’ so he shoveled it right back onto the driveway.”
Following a major stroke nearly two years ago, Mr. Hockey underwent stem cell therapy that appeared to put him on the road to recovery. He traveled some and made two visits to Joe Louis Arena for Red Wings games last October and March. But last week, his health took an unfortunate turn, and he lost the desire to eat and drink.
“It was clear he was no longer having fun,” Murray Howe said. “Dad always said if it’s not fun it’s time to do something else, so we filled his final days, surrounded him with friends and family and he knew he was loved.
“Mr. Hockey left the world with no regrets, and although he did not lead the league in church attendance, his life has been the epitome of a faithful servant.”