‘Mr. Hockey’ author Murray Howe discovers his dad’s most important lesson

Detroit News

Mark Falkner
| The Detroit News

Murray Howe’s national-bestselling book is called, “Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father,” a collection of stories about “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe, a Detroit icon who led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups in the 1950s and who is widely regarded as the National Hockey League’s greatest all-around player.

But it’s the 10th lesson that Howe has discovered since writing the book in 2017 and after meeting thousands of hockey fans since he delivered his dad’s eulogy in 2016 that resonates the most for the 60-year-old physician who now lives in Sylvania, Ohio.

“As I’ve gone along and done a lot of appearances with the book, it’s kind of been apparent to me that all the lessons ultimately boil down to gratitude,” Howe said. “It’s interesting that I didn’t chose gratitude as a lesson and maybe that was a good thing. It allowed me to come to the realization that the reason Mr. Hockey was amazing at so many things and able to accomplish so much in his life was this gratitude that he had.

“He didn’t take credit for anything in his life, that it was all given to him by God and by his family and friends and fans. He never wanted to let any of those parties down. It drove him to be generous, selfless and patient. He never wanted to waste all these talents and gifts he was given. He felt he was the most fortunate person who ever lived.”

Howe’s book centered on nine lessons he learned while growing up as the youngest of Gordie and Colleen Howe’s three sons. The No. 9 was symbolic for the number his dad wore for the majority of his 25-year career with the Red Wings. (Howe wore No. 17 as a rookie in 1946 but changed to Roy Conacher’s No. 9 when Conacher was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks after the 1946-47 season). The nine lessons were:

1. Live honorably

2. Live generously

3. Play hard but have fun

4. Patience, patience, patience

5. Live selflessly

6. Be humble

7. Be tough

8. Stay positive

9. Friends and family are like gold. Treasure them.

“I’ve read the book at least 100 times,” Howe said. “Certain sections speak to me today, Even though he grew up dirt poor, his most prized gift for Christmas was an orange. I think about that. He said he had the best childhood of anybody because he had everything he wanted, which was to be loved by his family and to do something that he loved which was to play hockey for nine months out of the year. That for him was just heaven on earth.”

Howe dreamed of following in his father’s hockey footsteps. In 1976, he was a member of the national champion Bloomfield Paddock Pools midget team. Drafted by the Ontario Hockey League Windsor Spitfires in the 20th round in 1977, he played alongside Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey with the Junior B Seneca Nationals in Toronto.

His brothers both played in the NHL. Mark, also a Hall of Famer and the Red Wings’ current director of pro scouting, was the second-highest scoring defenseman in pro hockey with 1,246 points in the NHL and the now-defunct World Hockey Association. Marty scored two goals in 197 games with the Hartford Whalers and 67 goals in 449 games in the WHA. Murray’s sister, Cathy, resides in Lubbock, Texas.

“Once it was apparent I wasn’t going to be an NHL player, I was able to transfer that work ethic into academics with a flip of the switch,” Howe said. “For me, going through medical school was a walk in the park. Studying 10 hours a day. I can do that. That’s way easier than skating line drills for two hours and I’m not getting my head taken off in the boards.

“It’s all about perspective again. I felt so much gratitude to find something that I really loved in the medical field. That happened because there was no pressure for me to be anything other than who I wanted to be. I’m trying to be like my parents and just dedicate my life to enriching other people’s lives and inspiring them to look for their unique talents.”

Howe and his wife (also named Colleen) have four children and two grandchildren with a third grandchild due in March. Meaghan is a podiatrist in Brighton and married to former Compuware goalie Doug Stoinski; Gordie is a licensed professional counselor and therapist in Ohio; Corey is a bioengineer and research scientist in Saskatoon (he married Davis Parkinson, a nurse who was volunteering at an event honoring Saskatchewan-born “Mr. Hockey”); and Sean is a professional dancer with the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is there’s a lot of Gordie Howes out there,” Howe said. “They’re all not necessarily as big and strong and good skaters as my dad was but they’re Gordie Howes in different ways they use their talents to serve others.

“That lesson, no matter who you are, you can have the same impact or greater impact than Gordie Howe just by how you give to others. You should never say I wish I could do this. You should say here’s the things I can do. Let’s see how I can impact others.”

Howe, a University of Michigan graduate who has studied medicine since 1986, is currently head of Sports Medicine Imaging for Toledo Radiological Associates and Promedica Health System’s Sports Care program and is an associate clinical professor at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Howe has “worn a mask like a goalie until the game is over,” stayed at home more often with his family while supporting local restaurants and recently received the vaccine even though “I’m used to being at the back of the line.”

“If you’re not sure about getting the vaccine, do it not for yourself but for everybody else,” Howe said. “I see many, many COVID patients as a radiologist every day and this is not a disease that you want. It’s kind of Russian roulette who gets a mild case and a severe case.

“If you get a severe case, if it doesn’t kill you, it can be life-changing in terms of the long term. It can cause a whole host of problems like inflammation in the brain, inflammation in the heart. I’ve seen several physicians who’ve gotten sick from COVID and they’ve been on the ventilator in the ICU. They just looked like a train ran them over.”

When the pandemic is over, Howe said he’s looking forward to being a keynote speaker again and feels there could be another book in the future. 

“I feel like I could write nine more books,” Howe said. “I keep writing down what I’ve learned when I meet people at these book appearances. Everyone it seems has a story of what the Howes meant to them or something my mom and dad did for them. I’m continually inspired.

“My mom and dad both had a litmus test. If something was fun, that’s when you should do it. If it’s not fun, you shouldn’t do it. So I’m waiting for that inspiration to hit me saying, ‘OK, this would be fun to do book two and then I’ll do it.”


Twitter: @falkner

Murray Howe glance

Age: 60 (Born Sept. 15, 1960)

Born: Detroit, lives in Sylvania, Ohio

Hockey background: Teammate of Wayne Gretzky with the Junior B Seneca Nationals in Toronto. Youngest son of Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe. Brothers Mark and Marty also played in the NHL.

Occupation: Physician, head of Sports Medicine Imaging for Toledo Radiological Associates and Promedica Health System’s Sports Care program

Family: Wife Colleen, children Meaghan, Gordie, Corey, Sean, grandchildren Lucien, Hart

Book: Author of “Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father.”

Quote: “Whenever he (Gordie Howe) was tired at the end of a game and they were closing down the arena and they were waiting for him to sign autographs, he would gut it out because it was that gratitude that said, ‘You know what? The reason that I’m able to play tonight is because of these people who are here in the stands and I’m not going to dissapoint them,'” Murray Howe said.

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