Since his death last week, Mike Ilitch has been remembered for his impact as owner of the Red Wings and Tigers, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and champion of efforts to revitalize downtown Detroit. Among the stories being told is one that the Sports Business Daily broke in 2014: For more than a decade, Ilitch paid the rent of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
In 1955, Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, was a defining moment in the fight against segregation. Two years later, she moved to Detroit.
Then in 1994 when Parks was 81, she was robbed and assaulted in her home. A Detroit judge named Damon Keith asked local real estate developer Alfred Taubman for help in getting Parks moved to a safer home.
Ilitch read about this in the newspaper, then called the judge to say he would take care of Parks' rent. He did that until Parks died in 2005.
"It's important that people know what Mr. Mike Ilitch did for Ms. Rosa Parks because it's symbolic of what he has always done for the people of our city," Keith told SBD reporter Chris Botta.
Another story about Ilitch's personal touch is his response to a letter written by a 4-year-old Red Wings fan named Anthony Fenech. That was in 1992. The letter writer now writes for a living, covering the Tigers in the Detroit Free Press.
Mike Ilitch wrote me back when I was four years old and wanted to be a hockey player pic.twitter.com/klqWdSnKMk
— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) February 11, 2017
Former Red Wings were among those who attended a public memorial and visitation Wednesday at the Fox Theatre.
The line for Mike Ilitch's visitation, with Little Caesars Arena rising in the background. pic.twitter.com/4Fbxn8eQMS
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) February 15, 2017