Howie (right) with Ricky and Timber Jim, at the MLS2PDX rally in downtown Portland, February 28 2009
My friend Hartmut "Howie" Bless died yesterday morning. I met Howie in 2004 when I started attending Portland Timbers games, and he was always one of my favorite people to see whenever there was a game or any other Timbers Army event. I traveled with Howie to many games in Seattle and Vancouver, and he was also part of our group that went to the UK in 2006 to see Sunderland and Hartlepool.
When someone dies, it's sometimes hard to avoid clichés, like "He was such a happy person," and "One could never say a bad word about him." But with Howie, these sentiments are accurate: I never met him when he didn't have a smile on his face, and it was always a pleasure to hang out with him. He was passionate about soccer, and travel, and above all he loved his Portland Timbers.
There was a Timbers game last night, and when I got the news of Howie's passing at about 3pm, my first thought was "I can't go to the game tonight, it'll be too hard." But I did go, and it was hard, but I'm so very glad I went. All of the people with whom I shared Howie's friendship were there; we raised glasses of Howie's favorite imbibe, Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, at the pub before the game, and swapped memories of our friend.
Stepping into PGE Park was also tough. I went to my usual spot at the front of section 107, and when I looked over to where Howie stood at the front of 108, his seat was full of flowers and scarves. When the Timbers won a seemingly phantom penalty call, very late into 2nd half stoppage time, I felt like it was somehow a bit of Howie's beautiful karma, spreading joy and love around for a few thousand of his friends to enjoy. Ryan Pore easily slotted home the game winner with the final touch of the game, making the final score Portland Timbers 2 - 1 Rochester Rhinos; and I felt Howie smile.
It's a beautiful morning today in Portland, with sunny, warm weather forecast for tomorrow's Timbers meet'n'greet BBQ and U23 game. I'm going to enjoy it, because I know Howie would have enjoyed it, immensely. As the man himself wrote 4 years ago: "Every morning I wake up is a great day." I can't imagine a better mantra to live by.
You will be missed, Howie my friend. You're a rare person, who always made me happy to see you, and who always seemed happy to see me. Rest in peace.