Former Packers PR icon Lee Remmel dies

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Lee Remmel speaks during the Red Smith Banquet in Appleton in January 2006.

Lee Remmel, a former Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter whose 62-year relationship with the Green Bay Packers is the longest in team history, died Thursday. He was 90.

Remmel covered the Packers for the Press-Gazette from 1945 to 1974, when the organization hired him to lead its public relations and publicity efforts. He held that position for 30 years until he was named team historian in 2004.

Remmel covered the first two Super Bowls, both won by the Packers, and attended every succeeding Super Bowl until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2007, a career that spanned all 14 head coaches in Packers history. He also attended 122 consecutive Packers-Bears games.

"He was just such a quality guy in so many ways," former Packers president Bob Harlan said Thursday. "Very talented writer and turned out to be a great asset to the Packers organization. His memory was unbelievable. He could go back as many years as you want him to go and he could recall plays. He gave you everything, including the weather. But the thing that always stuck out to me is he's such a warm, wonderful person to everybody.

"There's no way you could dislike Lee Remmel."

Remmel's relationship with the Packers started while growing up in Shawano in the 1930s, when he would follow the team's achievements, listening to games on the radio whenever possible. While in high school, Remmel edited a weekly newspaper in Shawano, then joined the Press-Gazette in 1945.

His first Packers game was a 42-28 win over the Chicago Bears at City Stadium on Sept. 24, 1944. However, it wasn't until the following year that Remmel asked Press-Gazette sports editor Ray Pagel whether he could cover the Packers' game at Milwaukee's State Fair Park on Oct. 7, 1945, against the Detroit Lions if he agreed to pay his way.

Given permission, Remmel became a fixture at every Packers game, home and away, as a reporter. He covered the team's mostly dismal decade of the 1950s, and the highly successful decade of the 1960s. Remmel covered games from the sideline until 1959, when Lombardi told him to move to the press box that would one day bear his name.

The Packers were not the only subject of Remmel's sportswriting days. He was the force behind the annual Press-Gazette Bowling Tournament, and wrote a regular column called "Personality Parade." He also covered one of the Milwaukee Braves' World Series games in 1957.

In 1967, Remmel was voted Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year by his peers.

"I think he loved to write and he loved people, and I think the two things really fit well together," said niece Ellen Batchelor. "He was just a committed person. When he decided to do something, he would do it and he was always very quick. Not just quick-minded, but he moved quickly. Go do this. Go do that. Just go, go, go. Get it done. Taking care of things."

He left the Press-Gazette in 1974 to become director of public relations under general manager and coach Dan Devine. He continued in similar positions under coaches Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman.

Remmel was known for his uncanny memory and was able to cite game scores and details from every era of Packers history. His tales of covering the Lombardi Era became as legendary as the championship teams themselves.

One of his greatest terms of endearment was referring to people by their middle name, which he often did with quarterback Brett Lorenzo Favre. Remmel wavered between Favre and Don Hutson as his favorite player in franchise history. Upon his retirement in 2007, Favre referred to Remmel as a "Packers icon."

"I loved the relationships," said Remmel, who was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1996. "Enjoyed them. Often have said, I had two jobs in my lives, loved them both. Was with the Press-Gazette for 29 years, 3 months and 3 days. Additional 30-plus years with the Packers. So let's say I've been very fortunate."

Remmel was involved in the staffing of the first 40 Super Bowls, the first eight representing the Press-Gazette, the next 22 as a member of the NFL's auxiliary media relations staff, the 1996-97 seasons with the Packers' front office and again for the next eight years with the league.

During the week leading up to Super Bowl XL, Remmel was recognized as one of 12 media contributors (print, photography, public relations) who had worked the first 40 Super Bowls; he was the lone representative in the public relations category.

Remmel lent his name to a sports awards banquet that began in the 1990s, raising $225,000 in scholarship funds for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, St. Norbert College and area high schools. Perhaps his greatest honor occurred in 2003 when the Packers named the newly remodeled press box at Lambeau Field in his name.

"He loved his job maybe as much as anyone I've ever known has loved a job," former Packers guard Jerry Kramer said. "Some of the Hollywood stars might love their positions as much as he did, but I doubt it. He was in the greatest spot in the world as far as he was concerned."

He was married to his wife, Noreen, for 63 years before her passing on April 27, 2012. Harlan fondly recalls Remmel frequently saying "how lucky he was that he had met her" in their conversations.

"That was another thing that really impressed me growing up and even all the way into their old age, if there was anything about his background, he wanted to include Noreen," Batchelor said. "He would just say things like, 'Oh, she's so cute.' They were an inspiration for marriage, not just for football. Given that his whole life was football, he really did try to include his wife in everything."

He and Noreen also served as honorary co-chairs of the annual Brown County Humane Society's Fur Ball in 2000, 2001 and 2004, and were members of the executive committee of the Brown County Civic Music Association. Lee also served on the executive board of the 65 Roses Sports Club (cystic fibrosis) and the board of directors of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Inc.

The family plans a private service.

-- Mike Vandermause and Tony Walter contributed

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