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Bush honors Ilitch at private ceremony

The Detroit News

Former President George W. Bush called Mike Ilitch a "patriot" Wednesday while speaking at a Celebration of Life service for the late Red Wings and Tigers owner at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit.

"I am deeply honored to pay tribute to one of the most unique men I’ve ever known,” Bush said.

“Mike understood that hard work was necessary to succeed in our country. He and Marian started off with nothing, an idea and they worked long, long hours to build their business.

“I believe it is patriotic to create jobs for your fellow citizens. Because of Mike’s entrepreneurial successes, thousands and thousands of people were able to find good work and were able to support their families and be able to realize a better tomorrow.

“Mike understood that a patriot willingly sacrifices for the common good.”

Bush, the former Texas Rangers owner, said Ilitch supported the community where he lived, set an example of commitment for his fellow citizens and understood the “ideals that make us unique."

“I remember in the midst of my presidency him telling me how proud he was to have been a marine,” said Bush, the nation’s 43rd president. For those of you who don’t know the motto is Semper Fi. Always faithful. That sounds a lot like Mike Ilitch to me.

“He supported the fans of sports teams. He loved the Red Wings and they were mighty. He loved the Tigers and they weren’t so mighty. Of course, the Texas Rangers never won anything anyway.

“My favorite moments with Mike when I was able to spend time with him, was to talk baseball. He knew a lot about the game, a whole lot. One of the great tributes was when the people in the sport would say, ‘That’s a baseball man.’ That was Mike Ilitch.”

“He understood that to whom much is given, much is required. And so he and Marian have given a whole lot to this community. I’m impressed by his desire to feed the hungry, I’m so pleased to hear about his willingness to support higher education and of course I’m with him in spirit with my own time and support of our vets.

“I think it’s patriotic to set an example for your fellow citizens. Mike and Marian’s strong and loving marriage sends an important message about honoring commitment. Mike Ilitch loved his family a lot. He loved his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There’s a lot of them to love.

"A patriot understands the importance of family for the future of his country."

The ceremony was open to family, friends and Olympia Entertainment employees and featured guest appearances by WJR's Paul W. Smith, Wings general manager Ken Holland and hockey TV analyst Mickey Redmond.

Ilitch, who was also the founder of Little Caesars Pizza, died Feb. 10 at age 87 after a lingering illness.

Watch a replay of the service here.