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Gordie Howe - Comes Out Of Retirement

Famous Sports StarsHockeyGordie Howe Biography - A Childhood On The Canadian Prairie, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Signs With The Red Wings

Comes Out of Retirement

At the end of the 1970-71 season, Howe announced that he was retiring from the Red Wings after twenty-five seasons. Honored with the Order of Canada by his homeland's government in 1971, he was inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. Although Howe planned on entering the management ranks of the Red Wings, the arrangement turned out badly, in part because of tensions between the team's owner, Bruce Norris, and Colleen Howe, who took an increasingly active role in managing her husband's business affairs. After two unfulfilling years doing public relations work for the Red Wings, Howe laced up his skates again to play with the Houston Aeros in the upstart WHA. Alongside him were two of his sons, Marty and Mark, who were making their big-league debuts with the team. Howe played for the Aeros for four seasons before joining the New England Whalers for two more seasons. When the Whalers were incorporated into the NHL as the Hartford Whalers for the 1979-80 season, Howe racked up his twenty-sixth NHL season with eighty games, fifteen goals, and twenty-six assists. At the time of his second retirement as a professional athlete in 1980, Howe was fifty-two years old.

Related Biography: Wife Colleen Howe

Colleen Joffa was born in 1933 and spent part of her childhood in Sandusky, Michigan. After her parents' divorce, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Detroit, where she completed high school. She was working as a secretary at Bethlehem Steel when she first met Gordie Howe at the Lucky Strike bowling lanes on Grand River Avenue in Detroit in 1951. The couple dated for two years and married on April 15, 1953. They raised four children: future hockey players Marty and Mark, physician son Murray, and daughter, Cathy, who later worked for the family's business.

As the manager of her husband's business interests, Colleen Howe broke new ground in major-league sports. In addition to running Power Play International, Howe became an Amway distributor, sold life insurance, and even ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican candidate when the family lived in Connecticut. She was also a founder of the Detroit Junior Red Wings, the first junior-league hockey team in the United States. These accomplishments made her a pioneer in the sport of hockey, but sometimes brought her into conflict with the teams' owners and managers.

During her husband's retirement, Howe organized the couple's time around their philanthropic efforts, including the Howe Foundation. The first woman inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Howe was also honored as Michigan's Sportswoman of the Year in 1973. In 2002 Gordie Howe announced that Colleen was suffering from Pick's Disease, which causes sudden and debilitating dementia in its victims.

Where Is He Now?

Enjoying his second retirement since 1980, Howe returned to play a game in 1997 with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. Although he played for less than a minute, Howe scored a goal and became the first hockey player to have played a game in each of six decades. Howe was sixty-nine years old at the time of his final professional hockey game.

From their home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Howe and his wife, Colleen, conducted an extensive schedule of charity-raising appearances in the 1990s. In 2002 Howe disclosed that Colleen had been diagnosed with Pick's Disease, an incurable form of dementia that leads to behavioral changes and memory loss. "I've never had so many worries in my life," Howe admitted to the Detroit News in September 2002, "Sleepless nights. Every day is a constant reminder. What is, what was. Outside it's different, but inside … it eats you up."

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