Lesson learned from Mr. Hockey: Gordie Howe’s son recalls a life well-lived

TORONTO — A day doesn’t go by that Murray Howe doesn’t hear a new story about his father. People don’t tend to forget meeting Mr. Hockey.

In writing “Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father,” Murray wanted to highlight what made Gordie Howe special. But once the book came out, he soon found learning about his late father didn’t stop.

“Everybody’s got a Gordie Howe story,” said Murray. “Anybody that ever met him, they remember that day, they remember the details and it’s so awesome to hear. So I’m learning more every day and that’s just so neat to do.

“It’s completely unintended. My intention was really to share him with the world but now the world is sharing him with me, which is just a really awesome paradox.”

Gordie Howe died on June 10, 2016, at the age of 88. A Canadian icon, he played 32 professional hockey seasons, was named an all-star 21 times, and helped the Detroit Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup four times.

“Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father,” is a touching collections of stories that came out of Murray’s process of writing his father’s eulogy. Murray, the youngest of the family, says writing the book was a labour of love, albeit an emotional one.

“My dad’s my favourite topic, always has been,” he said in an interview. “The eulogy was 30 minutes, I said could have talked for 12 hours easily … There was so much I wanted to say.”

The nine chapters range in titles from “Live Generously” and “Be Humble” to “Stay Positive” and “Play Hard, But Have Fun.”

“In reality, there’s probably 999 lessons in there but we were able to get them into nine chapters,” said Murray.

For Murray, the message from mother Colleen and Gordie was greatness is not defined by your accomplishments but by how much you give to and impact other people.

Howe was unassuming off the ice, always willing to sign an autograph or engage a fan. Murray says the family rarely left the Detroit Olympia before midnight because of Gordie’s interaction with fans.

Murray paints a compelling picture of a man so generous, he gave away his Red Wings alumni membership card because he wanted a boy to have an autographed picture. A man who if he found a coin on the ground would give it away and say do something good with it.

A star who shovelled his own driveway, would carry his own bags and park his own car. Who would do the dishes and make his own bed, complete with military corners.

Probably dyslexic, Gordie never read a book. His philosophy was homespun and heartfelt.

“Because he didn’t read, he listened. He was a really amazing listener.” Murray said.

“If you ever told him anything, he would remember it because he’d be paying attention to you. He always said it was way more important to listen than to talk. He said you learn a lot more that way.”

A man whose sense of honour was absolute, even if it meant payback on the ice.

Gordie Howe made hockey a family affair when he skated professionally with sons Mark and Marty. Murray also played — a 15-year-old Wayne Gretzky was a teammate on the Seneca Nationals — but he gave up his hockey dream after failing to make the University of Michigan team as a walk-on.

Murray went into medicine and today is a radiologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Toledo Medical Center.

He and his family cared for Gordie in their home the last year of his life. His stories about that year are particularly touching, even if his father’s speech, memory and stamina were diminished as that year wore on.

“Even though the words were less, there was a lot more meaning,” Murray said.

Gordie made an appearance three weeks before he died then, according to Murray, when he felt he could no longer do what he wanted to do, he stopped eating and passed away soon after.

For Murray, Gordie exited on his own terms.

And even if your father wasn’t a legendary sportsman, Murray’s words in the book will likely resonate.

“I’ve been tucked in by him and tucked him in,” Murray writes. “After all these years, I still want to be like him. I still intend to.

“Perhaps that’s the greatest legacy a father can leave — that his son goes on aspiring to be like him, even after he’s gone.”

“Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father,” By Murray Howe. Viking, 232 pages, $29.95.

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