A few days ago, a woman in her eighties named Patty Milford, passed away quietly in Florida as a result of the horrible virus, COVID19. She was no ordinary lady. To me and her family, she was a legend. To those who know the hockey world of the 1950s and 60s, they would recognize her name as Sawchuk, Pat Sawchuk, the wife of the legendary goalie, Terry Sawchuk. She would be part of his legend.
I first met Pat in the summer of 1996. Obtaining the blessing of the Sawchuk family to tell 'the real story' of Terry Sawchuk, she flew up from Florida to her son Jerry's house in Michigan where I would be interviewing her over a few days. Many dozens of more notable writers had tried before me to obtain permission, to get the "inside" Terry story, but all had been rebuffed. I was fortunate to connect with the late close family friend and Terry's best friend and teammate, Hall of Fame defenceman, Marcel Pronovost. "If Marcel trusts you, the Sawchuk family trusts you!" is what Jerry had told me as the reason for my go-ahead. I was forever indebted to Marcel and he and I grew close.
From the moment I met her, Pat put me completely at ease. We had an instant rapport. She was so friendly, down to earth and hip! We laughed, she cried a lot, we paused quite a few times--I handed her a lot of Kleenex. The memories, the wounds of living with Terry still fresh in her mind twenty-six years after his death at that time. She was the protector of her children from him. Still through it all, she loved him in many ways and her fierce pride in his hockey accomplishments shone through! "Don't anybody mess with the hockey career of Terry Sawchuk or you'll have eight Sawchuks after you!" she said laughing but yet deadly serious!
She knew Terry like no other and she also knew his physical pain and his inner demons. Our chats and the book, SAWCHUK: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie, would be a cathartic experience for her and her seven children. She let me tell it, "warts and all!" Her reason for participating in the writing of the book resonates still.
"You know, it is truly tough to be married to someone in the spotlight, whether it be sports or entertainment," she said. "I wish in my heart of hearts, that I could take all of the bad memories and the hurt our kids have and are still going through. I wish I could make it disappear! If this book can help one person to get help, to live a normal life without abuse, and spare their loved ones the agony of watching someone you love destroy himself or herself, and everyone around him or her, to save their children, then I know Terry would truly be happy knowing this. He would give this story his blessing."
She said from day one, "I wonder who will play me in the movie?" She knew this story would just have to make it to a big or small screen one day. There was just no sports story like it. Ever. When the recent movie "Goalie" was made, I warned her that the movie was not really true to "our story", that it was more about a Sawchuk poem book, that the producers had not really taken any of my script recommendations and had a small budget. After viewing it, she called me and only said, "I know it wasn't your fault dear!" Totally forgiving and understanding.
By the time we had met in 1996, she had remarried, was a very happy, and devoted wife, mother and grandmother. We stayed in touch over the years by phone and she was forever commenting on my daily Facebook sunrise pictures and our continued friendship. Every note or conversation ended with "love you dear." I returned the sentiment because to know Pat (Sawchuk) Milford was to love her. She was just that special.
She was the Matriarch of her family and much, much loved. Though I'm sure they're all feeling her loss deeply, her memory and influence will live on. A legendary figure in her own right, I'm sure Pat will one day reappear on the big screen with Terry in a newer production, saying something like, "Oh for God sakes Terry, smarten the hell up!" Telling him like it was! Oh yeah. I look forward to that.
In the meantime, sleep well Pat! You're earned it.