Gordie Howe passed away. He was 88. When the WHA crumbled and some of the WHA teams, including the Hartford Whalers, were swallowed by the NHL, Gordie stayed with the Whalers for one final season. He played a total of 32 seasons, but he was never one of the top paid players until his wife, Colleen, became his agent during a time when women were expected to emulate June Cleaver. At one of the Hockey Hall of Fame dinners I overheard a Canadian TV sportscaster tell Colleen she was viewed with fear by hockey team managers because she was “one gutsy broad”.
I met Gordie when he played his final NHL season. I was covering the Buffalo Sabres for a small newspaper in Lockport, NY. When Gordie skated out onto the ice in Buffalo, the crowd, cheered and gave him a standing ovation. Most of the crowd didn’t come to see a hockey game. They came to see Gordie Howe.
After the game, I walked into the Whaler’s locker room – something June Cleaver would never do and something most women, particularly the very few women sports writers, would never do. When he saw me, Gordie asked, “When the hell did they start letting women in the locker room?” I didn’t leave.
I remember only a few things from that night 37 years ago. I remember Gordie saying he always told his sons, “Give yourself a choice not a chance.” He was proud that two of his sons played professional hockey. He said he and Colleen couldn’t be prouder of their son Murray who chose to become a physician. At the time, the creator of the Tank McNamara cartoon had done a few days’ of cartoons about the world’s oldest hockey player and his goal to play professional hockey with his grandsons. I asked Gordie about that. Gordie responded that the creator of the cartoon couldn’t count. Gordie had two grandsons, and his daughter was expected to give birth very soon.
Gordie had another thing to say about women in the locker room. “I’ve only got one secret and I’m keeping it.”
I never did learn what that secret was. I never looked for the secret either. I did get Gordie’s autograph for my husband.
May Gordie’s memory be for a blessing.