Gordie Howe and his son, Marty, spent about 20 minutes with a few members of the Kamloops media on Wednesday afternoon.
The Howes were in Kamloops for a promotion involving the Blazers, who were playing the Spokane Chiefs that evening.
The Howes then had to be in Vancouver for a Thursday promotion and another WHL game on Friday, with the Blazers meeting the Vancouver Giants.
It was obvious from the outset that Gordie, who will turn 84 on March 31, has grown old. However, none of us who were in attendance were aware that Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press had been in conversation with the Howe family and had prepared a story on Gordie and the onset of dementia. That story hit the Internet Thursday morning.
It describes the Gordie Howe we visited with in Kamloops.
Were this 20 years ago, it would be a simple case of Gordie having grown old, just like your favourite uncle, the one who always smells so good and who always has that hug for you but has grown forgetful. These days, however, that isn’t enough. We have to find a particular label to slap on someone who is forgetful, whose mind wanders, who has problems maintaining a thought.
Hey, Gordie still told some entertaining stories; it’s just that they may not have had a whole lot to do with the question he was asked. There also were times when he started to answer a question only to have his mind wander off in a different direction.
But he had that familiar glint in his eyes when he talked about the reputation he earned during his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings.
“If somebody spears you, you know you’ll get a heavier stick,” he said, and you wondered if the look in his eyes was the one he carried around on the ice with him.
The Howe family obviously has a full understanding of what is happening (Murray, the youngest son, is a doctor who helped care for his mother, Colleen, after she was afflicted with Pick’s disease), which is why Marty, one of his four children, accompanies Gordie everywhere. Oftentimes, Marty will complete an answer that is started by Gordie.
I can tell you, though, that Gordie hasn’t lost his sense of humour.
He walked into the boardroom in the Blazers’ office wearing a Blazers sweater with No. 1 on the back. Obviously made for an equipment-wearing goaltender, it was rather large on him.
“You work like hell to lose some weight and look at this,” a smiling and chuckling Howe said as he pulled the sweater out at the waist to show just how large it was.
Later, when asked about a handsome ring he was wearing, he responded: “It’s mine.”
It was hard not to watch Howe for those 20 minutes and think about how Mr. Hockey has gotten old, just like so many people before us. He is at a point on the road to where we all are headed.
Some of us will get there; some of us won’t. Those of us who do can only hope to have lived a life as full and as honourable as has Gordie Howe.
In the meantime, should you be fortunate enough to come in contact with Gordie, enjoy him. He is a national –
nay, international –
Donna Spencer’s story is right here.