Two years ago today — on March 6, 2006 — Minnesota Twins great Kirby Puckett died in a Phoenix, Ariz., hospital, one day after suffering a massive stroke.
To honor his memory, the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, where Puckett was treated for career-ending glaucoma, announced today it will open a patient education center named for Puckett. Tonya Puckett, Kirby’s former wife, and their two children donated the seed money for the Kirby Puckett Education Center, which will open April 30.
“When you deal with the loss of someone you love, it never gets better,” Tonya Puckett said in a telephone interview this morning. “But if you find a positive way to honor their memory, it allows you to celebrate their life.
“Kirby did some wonderful, wonderful things. It feels good to honor the great work that he did, and do something positive. It makes the day easier for me, and the children.”
Pfizer Pharmaceuticals jumped in as a partner after the Pucketts made the initial commitment, Tonya said. She would not specify the size of the family’s donation, but said it will be spread out over several years.
Glaucoma in his right eye cut short Kirby Puckett’s Hall of Fame career in March 1996, when Puckett was 35. “The Puckett family is an unfortunate expert when it comes to eye disease,” institute President David Orbuch said in a statement. “Still, their passion for promoting better eye health awareness in our community and dedication to helping prevent eye disease in Kirby’s name are simply amazing.”
The Puckett Center, which will be open to the public as well as the institute’s patients, will provide information on eye surgery. Eventually, free glaucoma testing and vision screenings also will be available.
Twins to salute Puckett, eye institute
April 29, the day before its opening, the Twins will honor the Pucketts and the center before their game with White Sox. “I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘honor,’ ” she said. “But we want to raise awareness that glaucoma has not gone away.”
Tonya Puckett said both her children — Catherine, 17, and Kirby Jr., 15, who are students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High — have been tested for glaucoma and are fine.
Both Puckett children play sports; Catherine runs track, and Kirby Jr. plays basketball. Catherine, she said, is in the process of choosing a college. The family still lives in Edina, in the same house as when Puckett was playing. The Pucketts divorced in December 2002.
These days, Tonya devotes her time to several charitable endeavors, among them a scholarship program in the family’s name. “I’m trying to say no a little bit more,” she said, “because there are so many wonderful causes to support, and I want to be part of them all.”