De Mortuis Bill Wirtz Nil Nisi Bonum

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 26, 2007 5:30PM

2007_09_wirtz.jpgConventional wisdom says that we should not speak ill of the deceased, but that's a tall endeavor if we're to take the pundits' criticisms of William Wirtz as law, although one has surprised us with his restraint. The longtime Blackhawks owner and liquor magnate passed away early this morning at the age of 77 from cancer.

It's easy to say that Mr. Wirtz was stuck in a bygone era, treating his beloved hockey franchise as though he was stuck forty years in the past, relying on the equally out of touch but trusted confidantes as he singlehandedly made major league hockey in Chicago an afterthought. Bar owners, liquor buyers, and other wholesalers can list a litany of Mr. Wirtz's transgressions, most notable among them the Wine and Spirits Fair Dealing Act of 1999. Commonly known as the "Wirtz Law," this foul piece of legislation (under its guidelines wine and spirits producers had to prove "just cause" before they could fire a distributor and hire a new one) was overturned by a Federal court three years after its passage into law and is now considered a case study for campaign finance reform. The well-traveled road is the one that states the single thing that mattered to Mr. Wirtz, with his new worth at over $550 million, was the bottom line of his business interests.

But that would distract from his charitable endeavors like Chicago Blackhawk Charities, which has donated more than $7.5 million to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Misericordia Homes, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, to name a few beneficiaries. It would force us to ignore Mr. Wirtz's membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame, being the driving force behind absorbing the World Hockey Association into the NHL, and his life-long passion for the sport of hockey. Mr. Wirtz was especially fond of the amateur ranks, where he long donated the use of the United Center — and before that, Chicago Stadium — for the state high school hockey championship and its ultimate prize, a replica of the Stanley Cup called the Blackhawk Cup. It would force us to conveniently forget that Mr. Wirtz was a husband, father, and trusted friend to scores of people.

One has to have a thick skin to absorb criticism, and Mr. Wirtz was a staunch "stay the course" man long before the phrase became overused. Like Mariotti, we'll try to remember Mr. Wirtz today at his happiest, in the raucous atmosphere of big-time hockey at Chicago Stadium, 18,000 strong screaming at the top of their lungs, drowning out the organ as Ed Belfour had the net on lockdown, Denis Savard was poetry on ice, and Doug and Behn Wilson kept opposing forwards in check on one-man disadvantages.

Image via The Heckler.