If you want to know the essence of a parent, seek out their children and take stock of their character.
It’s not a foolproof method by any means, but its purpose is clearly served in the case of Bob Suter.
A thousand recollections were launched Tuesday when Suter died suddenly of a heart attack at the too-young age of 57.
There were those who recalled his days at Madison East High School, where Suter began a career of understated excellence as a hockey defenseman. He was a major reason why the Purgolders won the WIAA state championship in 1975.
There were those who recounted his time at the University of Wisconsin, where Suter cultivated a reputation for being an unselfish, tough-minded sentinel for teammates less inclined to be combative. He emerged as a prime force for the Badgers during their run to the NCAA title in 1977.
There were those who recalled his iconic stint with the U.S. Olympic team, when Suter came back from a broken ankle to lend his speed and pugnacious nature to one of the defining moments in American sports history. He was one of the unsung glue guys for the “Miracle on Ice” outfit that stunned the world by winning the gold medal in 1980.
Of course, there were those who took stock of his prolonged, immeasurable impact on youth hockey in the state and beyond as overseer of the Madison Capitols. Suter taught the game he loved to hundreds of boys and girls using an approach — built on encouragement and fundamentals — that’s as enduring as it is endearing.
It was a reserved, respectful, blue-collar style that Bob and his brothers — Gary, John and Steve — drew from their father Marlowe and mother Dodi.
It was an example Bob tried to set for his children — Garrett, Justin and Ryan — with the expectation they conduct their lives with humility, passion and diligence.
To know Bob was to know he was a bit of a contradiction.
He was a ferocious player on the ice — he still holds the UW record for most career penalties and penalty minutes with 177 and 377, respectively — but came across as almost gentle off of it.
He wasn’t a conversationalist, but he was someone you enjoyed talking to because he was so down-to-earth.
He wasn’t complicated, but he could break down the details of a sometimes complex game for an outsider.
He wasn’t stylish, but he had an enviable air about him that was rooted in instinct and displayed in a variety of ways.
You saw that when Suter easily bantered with visitors to Capitol Ice Arena, his hockey-driven sanctuary located in Middleton.
You saw that when, wearing his trademark grin, he climbed aboard the Zamboni to resurface the ice between periods of a high school game.
You saw that when he stood behind the counter of his pro shop at Cap Ice and helped a child get the right pair of skates.
My enduring memory of Bob Suter is this: A few years back, my now-13-year-old was meeting friends at Capitol Ice to take part in the public skate. It was her first time in such a setting, and it’s quite possible that I wore a look of concern as she pulled away and made her way through the crowd to join her pals. Out of the throng, Bob appeared and measured the moment perfectly.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me above the din. “I’ll make sure she’s OK.”
I drove home certain that Jordan was in very good hands.
If you didn’t know Bob Suter and his backstory it’s highly unlikely you’d meet him and guess that his athletic resume is so distinctive or that his family’s hockey legacy is so rich.
His gold medal from 1980 is routinely shared, not sequestered in a safe deposit box.
His way of capitalizing on his “Miracle on Ice” fame was not to give motivational speeches or hawk memorabilia, but to sell bait and hockey equipment out of a modest store in his hometown.
His way of sharing his love for the game was not as an analyst or author, but as a selfless guide for kids.
His way of embracing fame was to tilt the spotlight toward his brother Gary and son Ryan, both of whom became elite defensemen in the NHL and played in multiple Olympiads.
In short, Bob Suter never celebrated himself.
I say we take a moment to do that now.