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By CHRIS HAVEL
Gifted writer, public relations man extraordinaire was a credit to team
With a wry grin and in a booming, baritone voice, Lee Remmel would kick off the quarterback’s news conference in grand style: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, BRETT LORENZO FAVRE!”
Then, Remmel would stealthily step back into the shadows, one Packers’ legend quietly, proudly yielding the spotlight to another.
Remmel, 90, passed away Thursday, and the Green Bay Packers lost one of the kindest, wisest and most extraordinary men in team history.
The Shawano native attended his first Packers game in 1944 while working at The Shawano Evening-Leader. A year later, Remmel covered his first game as a writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, and it began a 62-year love affair between him and the Packers.
Remmel went from sports writer to Packers’ public relations man in 1974. When I arrived in Green Bay to cover the Packers for the Press-Gazette in August of 1991, Remmel was among the first people I met.
We went to Pizza Hut, I believe, and he explained his role as PR director. Simply put, he never betrayed the trust of his employer, and he would do everything in his power to assist me in doing my job.
That was pretty much it.
Then we ate, talked about the Packers (what else?), my family, the Press-Gazette’s history and more Packers.
Through the next two decades, I marveled at the way Lee would do his job with consistency, professionalism and good humor. Clearly, he loved what he was doing, and he enjoyed helping people.
Lee was small of stature, but his presence naturally caused folks to gravitate toward him. His smile invariably triggered a chain reaction and his voice caused heads to tilt his direction. When Lee talked, it was you own fault if you didn’t know enough to shut up and listen.
Remmel was a first-rate storyteller. The pitch was perfect, the timing impeccable and the delivery flawless. He could make a 20-minute wait preceding a news conference feel like the time it takes to laugh heartily.
Remmel’s ability to artfully fill the gaps was unforgettable. Whereas some PR people might consider a pause between interviews “killing time” Remmel viewed it as an opportunity. He’d seize the moment to do a bit of stand-up comedy liberally laced with Packers history.
The concoction was intoxicating. Undoubtedly more than a few news conferences were greeted with genuine shrugs of indifference because the lead-in show was over. Remmel was that good.
Lee also was a historian and so much more.
Lee’s office was a monument to organized chaos. Super Bowl mementos, one-of-a-kind autographed items and priceless collectibles were mixed here and there with media guides, game programs and other assorted NFL-related paraphernalia.
When Lee passed, the Packers issued this release:
“The Packers lost a cherished family member today,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said. “Lee was a key member of the organization for many years, and his knowledge of Packers history was unparalleled. He was a great ambassador, and through his public relations work he helped multiple generations of Packers fans learn more about the team.
“We extend our sincerest condolences to his family.”
In 1996, Lee was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. His legacy also continues with the annual Lee Remmel Sports Awards banquet, which honors athletes of all ages with Wisconsin ties – prep and collegiate, amateur and professional – and raises scholarship money for area students.
Remmel was surprised by an award at his own banquet in 2009, when former Packers president/CEO Bob Harlan named him the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. It couldn’t have gone to anyone more deserving.
Remmel’s 62-year run with the Packers spanned Curly Lambeau’s era, it included the great Vince Lombardi’s phenomenal decade, and it spanned the Mike Holmgren-to-Mike McCarthy Super Bowl teams.
Remmel was one-of-a-kind as a scholar, gentleman and lover of life.
He will be missed.
Rest assured, if/when the Packers are playing in Super Bowl 50 one of the grandest storylines will be all about Lee Remmel watching over his beloved team.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.