In 1998 our club magazine remembered with great sadness the passing of our President, Ray Nitschke, and the following narrative was how I recalled the death of a special man.
On March 7th 1998, Margaret and I travelled from our home in Lancaster, England, to London to celebrate our 35th Wedding Anniversary with our two sons Paul and David. At 12 noon on Monday March 9th, exactly 35 years after we were in the church taking our marriage vows, I turned on the computer in my son’s home to check my email messages and to see if there was any news of the Packers doing business in the free agency market. My disbelieving eyes picked out the words “Hall of Fame LB, Nitschke, dies”. It had to be a mistake, Ray Nitschke was indestructible. How could this happen to a man who had looked on me as his brother? I went in search of Margaret but the words would not form on my lips, only tears flowed as I told her. After what seemed like an eternity I composed myself enough to be able to say, “Ray died yesterday” before my emotions won the battle again.
After the Superbowl in San Diego Ray and I had talked in our regular monthly phone calls and he was looking forward to seeing us both in September at the homecoming game. We had so much planned for the future but now we would have to treasure the memories of him and Jackie, the days at their home in Oneida, the four wonderful days in Chicago or just hanging out in Green Bay.
These photographs were taken at the Rosemont Convention Centre in Chicago when Ray was signing autographs along with Dick Butkus, Jimmy Taylor, Meadowlark Lemon and Pete Rose. At the end only Ray and Dick were left and then finally only Ray, he even outlasted Butkus in Chicago. Ray was scheduled to sign from 11 am until 2 pm but it was nearer 4 o’clock before we left the building.
He introduced me to Dick Butkus as “Coach”, his British Agent or 007 and Jimmy, Dick and the rest had me supplying diet cokes all afternoon, the best job I ever had.
The next day Jackie and Margaret went shopping which wasn’t unusual and Ray and I drove to the neighbourhood where he had lived and gone to school. Wherever we went he was treated like a hero and he spoke to everyone - they all loved Raymond. When we visited the bar that his uncle Pete used to run they had put up a huge picture of George Halas, Ray certainly didn’t like that so we had two diet cokes and left. Then we went to his old school, Proviso, where he had donated some football items in the past. They weren’t on display and that really hurt Ray but he offered to return to the school at any time in the future and talk to the kids about the danger of drugs. At this time the school had almost 40 full-time members of security on the staff and all the doors were locked. When I asked if that was to stop the kids leaving they replied that it was to keep the drug dealers out.
They never took up his offer to help and I even wrote from England to remind them of his offer but to no avail. Ray thought it was very funny that it took a “limey” to get him back to his old school and he never went back again but we had a great time there and he was glad that he had returned.
We had been booked into the Marriott Hotel in Chicago and I think Ray and Jackie were in the Swiss Hotel (memory failure) and for those four days Ray and I spent every waking hour together whilst Jackie and Margaret attended to the more serious business of checking out the shops. When the day came to check out and return to Green Bay, we had just finished breakfast when Ray walked into the dining area and shouted over, “Coach if you are both ready we can hit the road”. He had been to reception and settled our bill.
After Jackie’s death we both promised that she would be remembered in our prayers but I didn’t realise that the same promise would be made about him so soon. His name has been mentioned so often in our home that both my sons say that they feel as though they had always known Ray Nitschke. The stories will continue but the questions will now cease.
Thanks for your love and friendship - Goodbye old friend