September 3, 2009Not even cancer diagnosis can shake Harwell's spirit
Legendary Tigers broadcaster reflects on career, looks to future with resolve
BY BILL McGRAW
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
His voice was clear, his spirit strong, his words tinged with humor.
But legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell had bracing news to deliver Thursday: He has a tumor in the area of the bile duct. It is incurable. Yet Harwell said he feels calm and prepared for what comes next.
"We don't know how long this lasts," Harwell said in a phone interview. "It could be a year, it could be much less than a year, much less than a half a year. Who knows?
"Whatever's in store, I'm ready for a new adventure. That's the way I look at it."
Harwell, who gained an enormous following during 55 years as a major league baseball broadcaster -- 42 of them with the Tigers -- spent about a week in the hospital in mid-August with an obstructed bile duct, and tests revealed the tumor.
He is 91. Harwell, his family and doctors have decided against surgery or other treatment.
Asked what he wanted to have written about him, Harwell spoke about his fans and his faith.
"I don't want to make it too sweet because I don't want to get diabetes as well as this other stuff," he said, chuckling.
Speaking of his many admirers across North America, Harwell added: "I'd like to thank them for their loyalty and support over the years. And their affection, which I don't know whether I deserve or not, but I accept it.
"And also, I think that when I heard the news, that I had this cancer, that I had a feeling of security and serenity ... but I had a feeling of acceptance because of my belief in Jesus and the Lord."
Harwell praised his family, his longtime adviser Gary Spicer, and his doctors and the medical staff in the Henry Ford Hospital system.
In a statement, Michael Workings, team physician for the Detroit Tigers and a Henry Ford Hospital family medicine physician who is part of Harwell's care team, said: "Mr. Harwell is a beloved and iconic figure who has touched so many lives across Michigan through his Hall of Fame broadcasting career and support in the community."
Since retiring in 2002, Harwell has remained busy, writing three books that have been published by the Free Press, releasing an audio scrapbook of his interviews and famous broadcast moments, and working as a health and fitness advocate for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
"Ernie has literally changed people's lives through his efforts to communicate about the benefits of healthy behavior, and we are grateful to him for that," said Blues President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Loepp. "He has been an inspiration to all of us at the Blues who have the honor of knowing him."
Harwell said he plans to retire from his job with the Blues after he records two commercials next week. He plans to complete a fourth book of his columns, which have run for years in the Free Press sports section. The final column is scheduled to appear at the end of the month.
Harwell said he feels good but has been forced to cut back on his daily exercise routine.
"I don't have any pain at the moment," he said. "Because I've lost weight, I can eat almost everything I wanted to. I've come back to my childhood with ice cream and all those good things."
Harwell said his wife, Lulu, remains strong and shares his belief in God. They celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary Sunday.
"We walk hand in hand wherever we go," Harwell said. "We still love each other. She's the best thing that ever happened to me."
For the first time, his voice wavered, slightly.
Contact BILL McGRAW: email@example.com
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