The city of Detroit lost one of its biggest fans in Mike Ilitch on Friday. He was a Detroiter from the first day of his life to the last and he loved the city even when so many others did not. Reminiscing is a part of the grieving process and today I find myself grieving over the loss of a man I never met and reminiscing.
For a native Detroiter it is not difficult to find positive memories of Mr. I. He oversaw the return to relevance of two historic franchises in the Red Wings and Tigers while also keeping both teams within the city at a time when people were flocking to the suburbs and away from Detroit. He led the development of the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League (three years before he bought the Red Wings) which has become the largest youth hockey league in the United States and has numerous NHL players in its alumni. He established philanthropic endeavors to help battle poverty and hunger, he worked veterans transitioning to civilian life and improving childhood health and education. Of all his accomplishments and contributions to the city, it is a lesser known one that remains my favorite.
In August 1994 civil rights icon Rosa Parks was assaulted in her Detroit home. US Court of Appeals judge Damon Keith made some phone calls in order to find her a safe place to live. Upon reading the story in the paper, Mr. I contacted the judge and told him he would pay for her housing for as long as necessary, and that is exactly what he did. From that time in 1994 until her passing in 2005 Mr. Ilitch, through a trust managed by the judge, paid for Rosa Parks to live in the Riverfront Towers Apartments. He did not do it for the publicity or fanfare, few knew of the story until it was published in an article by The Sports Business Daily. He did it because he loved the city of Detroit.
The Ilitch family has lost their patriarch, the NHL and MLB have lost one of their top owners and the city of Detroit has lost one if biggest fans. Thank you for everything you did Mr. I. You may no longer be with us in body but your spirit, your passion and your beloved city will live on.