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Legacy of love

Go your own way

Author Murray Howe. (Image: Courtesy of Murray Howe.)

Author Murray Howe, BS ’82/MD ’86.(Image: Colleen Howe.)

It’s been nearly 40 years, but Murray Howe’s memory is clear. It was freshman year. He was worn out from hockey practice, and he had some important news to tell his parents. He wondered how his father, “Mr. Hockey,” himself, would take it: Michigan Coach Dan Farrell had just cut Murray from the team.

“My whole life, all I knew was hockey,” says Howe, BS ’82/MD ’86. He’d spent most of his youth on skates, emulating his father, Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, and his older brothers, both of whom went on to the pros. When Murray finally told his parents his own hockey career had come to an untimely end, he was surprised by their response.

“They said, ‘Thank God we don’t have to worry about you anymore.’”

And with that, Murray Howe laid to rest any fears of falling short of family expectations. “All the pressure I felt came from within,” he realized. “And I had no doubt my parents loved me for who I was, and they were excited that I was finally going to allow myself to pursue the passions and talents that I had.”

Today, Howe is head of Sports Medicine Imaging for Toledo Radiological Associates and Promedica Health Systems Sports Care Program. He also is an associate clinical professor at the University of Toledo Medical Center and he serves on the Michigan Medical School Admissions Committee.

Howe’s newest credit is author. He recently released Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father (Viking, 2017). The best seller is his first book. The poignant and personal text evolved from the eulogy Howe delivered at his father’s June 2016 memorial service.

Nine Lessons book coverFor the son of the sports legend, it was tough not to be cowed by such a daunting task. Gordie Howe’s remarkable career is marked by incredible firsts and unbelievable onlys. He played 26 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) and six seasons in the World Hockey Assn. (WHA). For 25 years, Howe played for the Detroit Red Wings, and he was a 23-time NHL All-Star.

He retired in 1971, but returned to the pros soon after, signing with the WHA’s Houston Aeros, alongside Murray’s brothers, Mark and Marty. Even in his mid-40s, Gordie was putting up outstanding numbers. He scored 100 points twice in his six seasons with the WHA. He returned to the NHL for one year and finally retired at age 52 – making him the only player to have competed in the league in five different decades. In 2008, he received the inaugural NHL Lifetime Achievement Award, forever celebrated as one of the sport’s finest (and fiercest) players.

Those are some compelling statistics, but anyone with a computer and Internet access can find them. Murray’s book introduces the Gordie Howe only a son could know.

“Dad was such a beautiful and unusual man in so many ways,” he says. “The book is an intimate tribute to Dad, but it resonates with people because he was such a cool person.”

Ask anyone who’s ever met Gordie Howe (and they are legion, believe me), and you will hear funny, charming, and inspiring anecdotes that express the tenets of his character: Live honorably. Live generously. Be humble. Be tough. Stay positive.

And much like he did in hockey, Gordie took each of those principles to the next level. After all, he was Gordie Howe. No one knows that better than his youngest child.

People might be surprised to learn this book is not about hockey. It’s about a father.

MH: I think it’s funny that the book ends up in the sports section because it’s not a sports book at all. It’s a book about life and relationships and family. It’s about being the best version of yourself and raising your kids to be the best people they can be.

The book evolved from the eulogy you wrote for your father’s memorial service in 2016. What did you learn in the process?

The Howe brood. Very sporty. (Image: Courtesy of Murray Howe.)

The sporty Howes. Look who’s wearing hockey gear. (Image courtesy of Murray Howe.)

MH: When I was done, I had an epiphany: Dad was the epitome of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. He was patient and kind. Not envious or boastful. He wasn’t rude or arrogant. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t keep a record of wrongdoings or hold grudges. He always trusted and always hoped. So, when I ask myself: “Why was it that people loved Dad so much?” I have one answer: It was because he was so loving. And writing the book inspired me to be a better version of myself.

Why do you think he was that way?

MH: It’s remarkable that he was so humble, considering what an exceptional athlete he was. But I think it was his mom who taught him never to think too much of yourself — that the successes you have in life are due to the gifts you’re given by God and the people around you who helped you.

One of your father’s lessons that resonated with me was: “Enjoying life and taking it seriously are not two separate things.”

MH: That’s right. He might have been working hard at being absolutely the best he could be. But he also was having a blast.

A colleague who worked at Channel 50 years ago said Gordie was always gracious and never intimidating. “He just seemed like such a dad,” he said, “like everybody’s father.”

Murray, Gordie, Mark, and Marty Howe.

Murray, Gordie, Mark, and Marty Howe. (Image courtesy of Murray Howe.)

He would always go up to the little kids, tousle their hair – and if it was a boy, he would call him by a girl’s name, not to be mean, but just to get a rise out of him. At the same time, he would take the opportunity to teach the kids something. Could be manners – being courteous in asking for an autograph, or picking up a piece of trash. It’s fun that the book allows him to keep on teaching people.

Your book paints a picture of such a loving, supportive family. What advice do you have for children who are not so fortunate?

MH: It comes down to being cognizant of your blessings. I’m in the medical field and I see all the challenging things people go through. I’m fortunate to be reminded on a daily basis: “Wow, I can still see. My brain still functions. I can still walk.” It’s all about perspective, and I think any person, if they are truly honest, can see their blessings. And when you do, everything else falls in line.

And what lessons can parents learn from your book?

MH: My parents were so good at encouraging each of us kids to follow our dreams. Their joy came from our joy, and it was never about them defining their own importance based on whatever successes we had in life. They knew we would make the biggest impact on the world by doing what we love and doing it well.

Talk about what it was like to care for your father in the last year of his life.

The Howe men go fishing.

The Howe men go fishing. (Note that Gordie is helping Murray hold up his catch.) (Image courtesy of Murray Howe.)

MH: It was a huge privilege because my dad was so capable, so strong, and so independent. He didn’t care about material things, and he didn’t need a lot of help. So, as he aged, I was so thrilled I could do something for him that would help him. He never let a day go by that he didn’t thank me profusely. It was the best year of my life, for sure.

Another advice question: What would you say to people who have elderly parents, nearing the end of their lives?

MH: To truly treasure them and recognize what a gift it is that they are still with you. Use the opportunity to show that you appreciate everything they did for you, and also to absorb the wisdom and love they can still express to you.

You won a Hopwood Award for writing as a U-M freshman. What was the topic?

MH: It almost was a foreshadow to this book. It was called “The Road to Nowhere,” and it was about the challenges of trying to be a professional hockey player growing up in this professional-hockey-player family but not being well suited to do so. The message was to embrace your own talents and try not to live up to anybody else’s expectations.

I had just gotten cut from the hockey team, and I submitted the essay on a total lark. When I got the letter that I won, it was such a huge surprise. I kept looking at the return address to make sure it was legit. I felt so out of place at the awards; like such a dumb jock surrounded by all these wonderful writers. But it did plant a seed for me to continue with my writing.

A new “legends” museum at Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Arena will hold a trove of memorabilia related to your father. Is there a piece you find especially significant?

MH: There’s a jersey that I think is from the All-Star game when he was with the Houston Aeros, which was super cool. To me, that was so inspirational. Here’s a man 45, 46 years old and he’s dominating the league among these players who are 19, 20. And the fact that he was doing that while playing along with my brothers, Mark and Marty, must have given him such joy. I mean, it was such a Cinderella story. He was leading the league in scoring for most of the season until he broke his ankle. Mark was named Rookie of the Year, Dad was MVP, and the team won the [WHA Avco Cup, 1974]. It was such a great reward for Dad living such a great life. I know when I play hockey with my kids, it’s thrilling. I can’t imagine winning a cup with them.

Speaking of kids, you had free run of the Olympia stadium as a boy. Fun times?

MH: I knew Olympia like the back of my hand: every little corridor. I knew where to find the extra hockey nets, how to get inside the training room where they stitched people up. I could pretty much walk in and out of that dressing room any time I wanted to. People were thrilled to help me because of who Dad was. They would hand me a puck or an extra stick: “Here, keep this, kid.” It was just like living a dream. And I savored it for sure. I still pinch myself that “Mr. Hockey” was my Dad.

In the book, you talk about how generous your father was. The more he gave away, the more came back to him. You seem to be following his example: You shared him with the world when he was alive and you are sharing him again through your book.

MH: And now the world is sharing Dad with me. He’s living on the pages of my book and in the stories and emails fans send to me. It allows me to continue to experience him, to be inspired by him. The book has become a living legacy of Dad. It’s just a great snowball of love.

 

Comments

  1. Geraldine Lynn Berard (m. Tinsley) - 1985

    My parents were raised in Montreal and moved to Detroit before I was born. My dad coached and managed a Canadian hockey team during his early years so hockey was ever-present in our home as I grew up in Michigan. Gordie Howe was our hero and a great role model for all kids in Michigan. I look forward to reading his son’s book. Thank you for sharing this story with alumni. Go Blue! – Lynn

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  2. Alan Woodliff - 1970, 1974, 1978, 1987

    I once played in a golf outing at the Detroit Golf Club benefiting the Children’s Center of Detroit. In the foursome ahead of mine was Alex Delvecchio and your father, Gordie Howe. I grew up having my father take me to Olympia in the 1950’s and watch all my Red Wing heroes. Of course, Gordie was my favorite. For me, the best part of that day was talking with Alex and Gordie at each upcoming tee box. It was a pleasure I will never forget. What regular guys! And how about Gordie’s elbows? The cylinder like bone protrusions told me that there was a little elbowing going on.

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  3. Gerald Farnell - 1961

    A beautiful story and lessons that should be passed on to all. I grew up in Detroit and attended Olympia many times. Enjoyed hockey, never was any good at it, but appreciated the multiple skills needed to play and particularly play well. God bless Murray and the whole Gordy Howe family.

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  4. Steven Morgan - 1983

    I met Mr. Gordie Howe at the Flint IMA Sports Arena (Flint, MI) during a hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues on September 19 1971 or 1972. During the game in between periods their was an announcement over the PA that he was in attendance watching the game and stated what section he was sitting in. My Dad mentioned to me I should get his autograph. I walked over to the section he was setting in and waited in line. When I finally met him he graciously shook my hand and gave me his autograph which I still have today. I look forward to reading his son’s book. Thank you Dr. Howe for this story. Go Blue-Steve

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  5. John Veltri - 1979

    I remember seeing Murray score 7 goals on TV when he was a peewee. My father used to take us to Red Wing and Junior Red Wing games. My favorite memory was going to a Red Wing vs. Junior Red Wing game and seeing Gordie, Mark, Marty, Murray and Alex Delvechio play on the same line for the Junior Wings..

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  6. Bruce McCubbrey - 1958 Engineering, 1961 Law

    I played recreation league hockey in the early 1950’s at Olympia stadium. Our games were frequently scheduled right after the Red Wings practice. Often, the Red Wing players, including Gordie, would hang around and skate with us during our warmups. What a thrill it was. (And I played right wing and wore number 9.) Can’t wait to read the book.

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  7. Mike Bailey - 1973

    Growing up in southwestern Michigan, Niles, in the 1960’s offered little opportunity to enjoy Michigan, Detroit or any hockey except in the newspapers. For me, that changed in 1969 when I entered UM and lived in Allen Rumsey, West Quad. Every Detroit Red Wings game broadcast on Channel 50 was watched by 30+ avid fans in the “social room” that had the only TV in our wing. This avid crowd included about 8 Canadians who were part of the UM hockey team. Between watching Howe, Delvecchio and Redmond and Berenson in 1970+ this southwestern Michigan boy became an avid Detroit/UM fan. My son and grandsons, living just east of St. Louis continue this tradition. I will always thank Gordie, Alex, Mickey and of course Red for the enjoyment they provided me and my family. Thanks for an excellent article.

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  8. Paul Spring - 1985

    I’m always looking for a good read. I’m genuinely excited to read this one. Personally, I played hockey at UM and later became a head and neck surgeon. I never met Mr. Hockey, but seemingly everyone I met had.
    I played only once at Olympia as a juvenile and I really believed that the moment I stepped on the ice I could “smell” the history of Gordie Howe. The transcendence of youth.

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  9. Michael Geiger - Engineering 1975

    In the 1990s, I was visiting Traverse city with my wife, my two sons and my parents. At that time, both my sons were playing Pee Wee hockey in Cincinnati and although Gordie had retired before they were born, they knew all about his legacy. We went to Gordie Howe’s Restaurant for lunch.
    We were sitting in a big booth and of course, the boys were wearing their hockey jerseys. Unexpectedly, Gordie and Colleen walked into the restaurant and when they saw my sons, both slid into the booth and put their arms around my boys and struck up a conversation with us. My dad was so flabbergasted that he could hardly talk. My sons had smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes that I can picture in my mind like it happened yesterday.
    Gordie and Colleen sat and chatted with us for 15 or 20 minutes. One of my sons realized that we had a Red Wings jersey out in the car and asked Gordie if he would autograph it. “Sure thing” was the answer. My son ran out to get the jersey. It is signed: “Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, #9” and “Colleen Howe, Mrs. Hockey”.
    Years later, my sons had the good fortune to meet Gordie again at a Hockey event in Cincinnati. They stood in line to shake his hand. He offered an autograph but they explained that they already had an awesome jersey autographed by himself and Colleen. He looked at them and said: “Oh yeah, from the restaurant.” We live in northern Michigan now. The autographed jersey is framed and hung on the wall in our house.

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  10. Paul Bodner - 1980

    Nice article. Growing up in the Detroit area watching the Wings of the mid/late 1960’s, my brothers and I marveled at the skill and strength displayed by the “old man” and wishing we could have seen him and the team play during their glory years. What he was later able to accomplish In his comeback in the WHA was amazing and inspiring, especially being able to do it with Marty and Mark alongside him.
    The couple of times I met Gordie were very brief but memorable. I moved to Hartford for a job in 1984 — one of the reasons I took the interview was because I had followed his time there with the Whalers, making that small city seem familiar. When I arrived, Gordie’s Glastonbury restaurant was still operating, providing a touchstone to Detroit with all its Red Wing memorabilia. A couple of years later, while moonlighting as an usher at Whaler games, I bumped into Gordie in the basement corridors of the Civic Center, where he displayed his trademark graciousness by going out of his way to greet me first, probably picking up on how awestruck I was to encounter him unexpectedly.
    In the late 1990’s, after the Whalers abandoned Hartford for North Carolina, my son was fortunate to play a between-period Mite scrimmage on a night when the AHL Wolfpack were honoring Gordie and Colleen. Afterwards, they stopped by the lockeroom to visit the team, with Gordie’s genuine kindness and easy manner making an instant connection with the kids. My son still comments on how HUGE Gordie’s hands were when he went around the room to greet each player!
    I’m glad my son had the chance to be impressed by one of my athletic heroes. Now I look forward to reading Murray’s book to learn more about his greatness as a father and person.

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  11. Gary Tipton - 1971

    My brothers and I were big Red Wings fans growing up in Roseville, MI during the 60s. All the kids in the neighborhood wanted to be Gordie as we skated on the frozen ponds during the cold Michigan winters. When he appeared at a local department store for an autograph signing event (free), my mom walked with my brother and me to see him and he graciously autographed two kid-size hockey sticks for us. Over the years one of the sticks was misplaced (my brother’s) but we still have the one original that is my most prized possession. It will be bequeathed to one of my sons in my will if we can ever get it back from his uncle. From what we know about the way he lived his life, the neighborhood kids, my brothers and I still want to be like “Gordie”.

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  12. Mitch Wolf - 1986

    I had the pleasure and privilege to skate with Murray for the University of Michigan Medical School “Hockey Docs” intramural hockey team. I remember vividly the photograph of us graduating seniors in front of Hill auditorium with the very proud Gordie standing with us, though I am unable to recall who our graduation speaker was.

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  13. Adrienne Ressler - 1964, BS; 1966 MA

    I thought I’d add the voice of a female to the commentary on Gordie Howe. My dad took me to Olympia about 2 or 3 times a year in the 50s to watch the Red Wings play. We never had great seats but the games were thrilling, even from the “nose-bleed” section. Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio were my favorite players and, as a young girl, I thought the sight of an octopus flying through the air on its way to the ice was absolutely one of the best parts of the game. Murray Howe’s book about his dad is a “must read” for me since my own dad was instrumental in bringing me up to love and appreciate sports – the Redwings, Tigers and Lions – at a time when daughters and moms were usually at home, not in the stands. My younger sister was as fortunate as I was in being exposed to the finest sports’ teams that Detroit had to offer but she still chose to go to Michigan State!

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  14. Pam Schuler - BS 1976, MD1979

    I grew up in St Louis a hockey fan starting before the Blues coming to St.Louis with the Braves. I watched Gordie Howe play many times, and made it to the Olympia for a couple of games while in school. I was the first woman to be allowed to take the ice hockey course at the University of Michigan and was able to take it for 3 semesters until my studies in med school became to time consuming to continue. I look forward to reading this book.

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  15. Janette Phillips - 1981

    In the mid 90’s, I was a frazzled mom of two toddlers. I ran to Kroger for a few items and had them on the belt to check out when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a tall man with only two items behind me, and carrying a very small dog in his arms. I knew what the right thing to do was, and so I finally looked up to him and asked him if he wanted to go ahead of me in line, since he only had a few items…. the man said, “No, I can wait.” He was so warm, friendly, kind and patient. It took a minute, but then I realized who it was: Gordie Howe. I did not follow hockey at all, but I knew that face!
    When I got home and told my husband, he was mortified that I went ahead of him in line with my cart of food, but Mr. Howe insisted. This incident exemplifies all that his family knew about Gordie Howe: he cared about everyone and was kind and loving to everyone. What a great man.

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  16. Lou Marinos - WSU- 1964

    I just received a copy of Dr. Howe’s book from a longtime friend who was at a lecture given by the author recently and received this Michigan Today notice from another one. My book giver friend and I go way back growing up in Detroit and watching Gordie play almost all of his Red Wing career. I went to Mackenzie High School when Gordie lived on Stawell (sp) street near the HS, and I then dated the Howe’s babysitter, Peggy D. I would drop her off to babysit Marty and Mark. Even then Gordie had the reputation of helping folks with car problems, even during heavy snows. I was fortunate enough to be close family friend to Olympia and RW execs Nick Londes and Lou Marudas and a member of the Olympia Room. Between periods I could visit Lou in the Adm offices and listen to great Gordie stories and on occasion see and talk to Gordie after the games waiting for traffic to clear. Murray described him perfectly. I moved to Houston in 1976 and had the pleasure of watching the 3 Howes play together and revisit with Gordie and Bill Dineen (Aeros coach) at a popular Houston sports hangout called Grif’s. Gordie was always the same and made all feel at ease. He was my hero for as long as I can remember. Mr. Hockey , no doubt, and the Greatest Hockey Player that ever laced up a pair of skates.

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  17. Patrice Berlinski - 1991

    My family is from Detroit as my father was a Detroit police officer. We have always been avid hockey fans. My dad played hockey as well as my sister Pam. Pam played at a time when it was more of a disgrace for girls to play and she continued into her 50s, like Gordie playing with younger players and exceeding. Gordie has been a hero to our family, not just for his athletic ability but for his genuine personality.
    My oldest brother, Perry, probably loved Gordie the most. When Perry was 4 years old he got polio which severely impacted his ability to play hockey although he was unstoppable and found ways to play. At one point in his youth, however, Perry was in an iron lung for a very long time. I remember hearing 6 months and 18 months so I am not sure. It was Perry’s dream to meet Gordie and I believe there was a Child’s Wish Foundation, or maybe the March of Dimes, that helped his wish come true. We still have the picture of Perry with Gordie. I believe they met twice. It’s always felt like Gordie was part of the family.
    Thank you to the Howes for sharing him in life and in your book.

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  18. Jerry Gonser - BSC '56/MA '62

    My contact with Gordie Howe came from my undergraduate years at Michigan, where I was one of the crew that resurfaced the ice at the old coliseum. We used scrapers along the boards, 50 gallon drums on wheels filled with hot water and a “skirt” on the back. (This was before the Zamboni was invented). The crew was made up of athletes from other sports and that’s how we earned money for meals.
    The Detroit Red Wings, used to play an exhibition game against our Wolverines who won the national championship 3 of the 4 years I was at Michigan. All of our team were Canadians as were all the Red Wings. As I recall the Red Wings had a production line of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Able, along with Alex Delveccio, Red Kelly and Terry Sawchuk in goal.
    The Red Wings would get a 5 or 6 goal lead in the 3rd period and then put in their backup goalie and trainer, Lefty Wilson. He would come on the ice smoking a big cigar and play the 3rd period. The Red Wings would allow Michigan to have a breakaway late in the period and Lefty would be ready to stop the puck. He would call out to the student section, “should I let them score?” The students would respond with a big “yes”. Lefty would then take his cigar off the top of the goal, give it a few puffs and then turn his back on the Michigan rush and let them score. Needless to say the place went wild.
    After the game, when we were ready to resurface the ice and the teams were leaving the ice, the Red Wings, lead by Gordie Howe, always thanked us for doing such a good job. We were impressed at how humble and down to earth the Red Wing team was, lead by Gordie Howie.
    Jerry Gonser Bsc, 1956, MA, 1962

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  19. Gregory Tornga - BA, 1992

    I grew up in West Michigan and have always been a big hockey fan. My father shared with me his one visit to Olympia to watch Gordie Howe play. I never had a chance to watch him play, but luckily I know his legacy. I was passing through customs at LAX (~2004) and handed my passport to an older gentleman with very large and strong hands, Thompson was his last name. Normally, customs agents ask, “where have you been” or something similar. He gives me a look, checks my passport, and asks, “greatest hockey player of all time?” I hesitate for a second because it is LA and Gretzky is pretty good. I answer “Gordie Howe”! Response: “Ok, your good, welcome home.” I double checked the name on his badge. I believe he played with Gordie in Detroit in the late 60’s. If passing through security was always this easy, travel would be much more relaxing!

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  20. Roger Szafranski - 1977

    As a kid had you ever said that a particular day was the best day of your life? Well, my dad took me along with the Knights of Columbus to watch the Red Wings play the Chicago Blackhawks at Olympia. It was an outstanding experience, one that I will never forget, the best day of my life (as a kid). The only thing that I can specifically remember was Gordie working the puck down the ice when a Blackhawk skated directly in front of him and like magic Gordie skated around him (I think it was around him, I could have sworn than it was through him) still in control of the puck and scored. Wow, what an athlete. However, it is what Murray mentioned that his parents said when he was cut from the Michigan team, “Thank God we don’t have to worry about you anymore” which makes Gordie Howe GREAT! What a man, what an athlete, what a treasure we had the opportunity to experience while he was here!

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