Walter Gretzky has passed away. He was 82.
Late Thursday evening the world lost one of the very best hockey dads there ever was.
“It’s with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my Dad,” Wayne Gretzky posted on Twitter at 10:29 PM. “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years, but he never let it get him down.”
As much as Canada loved Wayne Gretzky, his father Walter was also always there. From the early years on the now famous Brantford backyard rink, to Wayne’s professional career and incredible accolades, ‘Wally’ was always a part of the scene.
Known by most for his smile, his caring attitude and willingness to sign memorabilia until the last fan received his/her autograph, Walter Gretzky was a symbol of hockey and a symbol of what it meant to be a true Canadian. He epitomized the Gretzky name. He was Canada’s hockey dad.
“For my sister and my three brothers, Dad was our team captain,” Gretzky continued. “He guided, protected and led our family every day, every step of the way. For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey. He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey, but in life.
Even after his son retired from the game in 1999, Walter remained heavily involved with hockey. Whether it was making appearances at the nearby Air Canada Centre for Toronto Maple Leafs games, or attending local junior and even minor hockey games in his hometown, Walter did so with class and grace, answering questions from nearly every fellow hockey parent in attendance.
The first-born of Walter and Phyllis, Wayne came into the world in 1961, followed shortly thereafter by his sister Kim and three brothers Keith, Glen and Brent. Watching his children play sports was Walter’s ultimate pride and joy. His backyard-turned-icerink and basement-turned-shooting-range have since become recognizable Canadian heritage icons.
Walter suffered serious damage from a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1991 at the age of 53. He battled many memory issues and struggled with Parkinson’s the past nine years. Walter’s wife Phyllis passed away in 2005 following a bout with lung cancer. Survived by a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren, Walter undoubtedly left this world with his ever-present smile blazoned across his face.
Born of Belarusian immigrants in Ontario of 1938, Walter was married in 1960. He served for 34 years at Bell Canada as a cable and line repairman, while teaching his children the game of hockey on the backyard rink.
Walter was named to the Order of Canada in 2007 for his tremendous dedication and contribution towards minor hockey in Canada, as well as his dedication to helping a host of local, provincial and national charities.
“In our family, we’re all Christians and we all help each other,” Walter previously told Postmedia of his work within many charitable organizations. “It’s ‘Do unto others as you would like done unto yourself.’ I’m very fortunate because I’m in a position where I can help people. Not everyone can do that.”
In one of the most meaningful experiences of his storied life, Walter served as a torchbearer at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, carrying the Olympic Torch in the final leg of its journey prior to being lit by his son Wayne.
“We will miss him so much, but know that he’s back with our Mom and that brings me and my family peace,” Gretzky concluded in his post Thursday evening. “He truly was the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”