The hockey world received some heartbreaking news late last night, that Walter Gretzky had passed away. News broke through his son, Wayne Gretzky‘s Twitter feed just before midnight last night.
— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) March 5, 2021
Many woke up to the news this morning, and the heartfelt condolences and stories of a legendary Canadian Hockey Dad, continue to pour in.
Walter Gretzky Dead at age 82
Wayne Gretzky’s Dad
To most, Walter Gretzky was known as the father of the greatest hockey player to ever live. He was Wayne Gretzky’s dad. From humble beginnings on his family’s cucumber farm in Canning, Ontario Walter would marry and move to Brantford, Ontario in 1960. One year later, he and his wife Phyllis welcomed their firstborn son, Wayne, and the rest has become history.
He purposefully bought a home with a large, flat backyard so he could make a skating rink each winter. It was on this rink that Walter would coach and train, not only his extraordinary son but the rest of the Gretzky family (daughter Kim, sons Keith, Glen, and Brent). It was in Wayne that he recognized a unique athletic ability and devised drills to hone these skills. Countless hours were spent on the outdoor rink and in arenas all over Ontario. Wayne always credited his father for his hockey sense:
“Some say I have a sixth sense…Baloney, I’ve just learned to guess what’s going to happen next. It’s anticipation. It’s not God-given, it’s Wally given.”
A Hockey Dad
To those who knew Walter, he was much more than a celebrity father. He was the face of the unsung heroes of Candian hockey. The moms and the dads of the players. Not blessed with the size or skill to go far with his own game, he took to teaching. He instilled in his children as well as thousands of others he coached, a unique and genius hockey understanding. More importantly, he taught everyone to not only love the game of hockey but to respect it and cherish it. Walter could always be found at some hockey arena, somewhere for his entire life either coaching or just helping out.
Even long after Wayne had turned professional and long after his retirement. Professional players, coaches, and analysts would seek him out to soak in just a bit of that brilliant hockey mind. He would always provide his time and his knowledge to all those who loved hockey, no matter their stature in the game. And always with a gentleman’s grace and that unmistakeable Walter Gretzky smile.
A Giving Dad
Outside of hockey Wally, as those close to him called him, was as influential as he was in any hockey rink. He gave of himself in so many ways to numerous charities and organizations. No cause was too small for Wally. Collect broken hockey sticks to provide to local shop teachers to build benches. Sponsoring youth hockey tournaments and programs for underprivileged children. Working with major national organizations like the Canadain National Insitute for the Blind. A stroke that nearly ended his life in 1991 didn’t weaken his giving heart. It only made it stronger. He dedicated much of his time to the Heart and Stroke Foundation in thanks for the hard work and support they provided. He also battled Parkinson’s disease since 2012, and in true Wally fashion, gave all he could to help those who suffered beyond himself.
Walter Gretzky was “Canada’s Dad”. The captain of the hockey parents who tirelessly give their time for the love of their children and the game. More than that he represented what many of us love about Canada and about being Canadian. The son of Belarusian immigrants, he embraced his country and its culture, while still being true to his own culture and background. Always humble and giving back to those who give and beyond. And a deep love and passion for Canada’s game of hockey.
In 2007 Walter was named to the Order of Canada, the countries highest honour for its citizens. For “his contributions to minor hockey in Canada and for his dedication to helping a myriad of local, provincial and national charities” To know and learn about Walter Gretzky, is to know and learn what makes us proud Candian’s. He was more than just the father of “The Great One”. He was a Great One. The hockey world and our world are better for knowing him. Thank you, Mr. Gretzky. Rest in peace.
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