BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- 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 suburban of Bloomfield Hills 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."
Known as "Mrs. Hockey," Colleen Howe promoted the sport in her own right and stood outside her husband's shadow through her charitable work and success as a businesswoman and author.
"Colleen was a pioneer hockey wife and hockey mom and devoted her entire life to the betterment of the game," Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch said.
"Mrs. Hockey" and "Mr. Hockey" -- nicknames the Howes trademarked for themselves -- were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000 along with sons Mark and Marty.
Gordie Howe, also 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 NHL and World Hockey Association.
Colleen Howe was inducted into the U.S. hockey hall for her work in youth hockey. She founded the Detroit Junior Red Wings, the first junior hockey team in the United States, and developed the first indoor ice arena, "Gordie Howe Hockeyland," in the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores.
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 like Wayne Gretzky an earlier opportunity to play professionally.
She also was one of the first female sports agents, negotiating contracts for her husband with the WHA's Houston Aeros and Hartford Whalers. Colleen Howe also negotiated her husband's first endorsement contract
After Gordie Howe retired from the NHL at age 52 in 1980, he joined Colleen Howe in her business and charitable endeavors. They also went on to begin new ones.
Colleen Howe was the inspiration for the Howe Foundation, begun in her husband's honor in 1993 when he turned 65. With Gordie's age a symbol, they visited 65 schools in 65 cities in the U.S. and Canada. They raised nearly $1 million for charities benefiting underprivileged children.
Colleen Joffa was born in 1933 in Sandusky, Mich., where an ice arena bearing her name was dedicated in 2000. She was living in Detroit when she met Gordie 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!"
She was an award-winning video producer, sold life insurance, ran for the U.S. House in Connecticut, and owned cattle and llamas, a travel agency and Amway distributorships.
Gordie Howe said during a 1999 interview that his long career as a top player helped ease the transition to life after hockey, but most of the credit belonged to "Colleen's ideas and representation."
His formula for success, he said, was this: "Believe in yourself. Love what you do. Follow your dreams. Overcome challenges. Believe in God. Marry the right girl."
Colleen Howe added: "Don't be afraid about stepping out and doing something. If it doesn't work, try something else. Losing is to not have participated in the race."
In addition to her husband and sons Mark and Marty, she is survived by daughter Cathy, son Murray, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Funeral arrangements are to be announced.