Colleen Howe, the wife of hockey great Gordie Howe and one of the first female sports agents, died Friday. She was 76.
She died at her home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., after battling Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's, the Detroit Red Wings said. She was 70 when stricken with Pick's, which alters personality and character and whose progression cannot be slowed.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called her a "formidable woman, the wife and partner of our iconic player, the matriarch of a remarkable hockey family."
As "Mrs. Hockey" to her husband's "Mr. Hockey," Howe promoted the sport in her own right and stood outside his shadow through her charitable work and success as a businesswoman and author.
Gordie Howe, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, was one of the game's greatest players during a 32-year professional career. He led Detroit to four Stanley Cups and won seven Most Valuable Player awards in the National Hockey League and World Hockey Assn.
Colleen Howe discovered in 1973 that the upstart WHA allowed players under age 20, something the NHL did not. The discovery cleared the way for Gordie Howe to play on the same team as their sons, Mark and Marty, and gave young stars such as Wayne Gretzky an earlier opportunity to play professionally.
She was one of the first female sports agents, negotiating contracts for her husband with the WHA's Houston Aeros and Hartford Whalers. She also negotiated her husband's first endorsement contract.
After Gordie Howe retired from the NHL at age 52 in 1980, he joined his wife in her business and charitable endeavors. She was the inspiration for the Howe Foundation, which raises money for charities benefiting underprivileged children.
Colleen Joffa was born in 1933 in Sandusky, Mich. She was living in Detroit when she met Howe in April 1950. They married three years later.
She was founder and president of Power Play International Inc. and Power Play Publications Inc., companies formed to manage her and her husband's business affairs.
Colleen Howe was co-author of the books "After the Applause," "My Three Hockey Players" and a self-published autobiography, "and . . . HOWE!"
In addition to her husband and sons Mark and Marty, she is survived by daughter Cathy, son Murray, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.