Walter Gretzky, the ultimate hockey dad who won Canada’s heart, is dead at 82

By: Terry Haig
To be a great hockey parent requires patience, perseverance and great love.
Any Canadian who’s ever gotten up at the crack of dawn to take a child to practice, flooded a backyard to turn it into an mini rink or consoled and/or celebrated with a kid after a particularly tough game, will tell you this.
Walter Gretzky, who possessed all those qualities, died Thursday at the age of 82, following a nine-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest scorer in National Hockey League history, confirmed his father’s death on Thursday night on social media.

It’s pretty certain that many Canadians will take Walter Gretzky’s death personally.
He was, after all, blue collar to the core–the neighbour down the street you could trust your kids with, a man who spent 34 years as an installer and repairman for Bell Canada, a guy who raised a son good enough to ultimately be hailed as “The Great One,” a coach that made sure that son never got too caught up in his own self-importance.
It was some ride for the Gretzkys and for Canadians.
As Wayne’s star rose, so did Walter’s.
The two spent a lot of time in public view–Wayne on the ice and Walter in commercials and in joint public appearances with his famous son.
And, the more Canadians saw of Walter, the more they liked him.
He was one of them.
Eventually, he became the most famous hockey dad on the planet.
The Gretzkys came across the way Canadians like to view themselves: humble and self-effacing.
And the success they had, they had together.
Becoming a successful hockey player is, as most Canadians will quickly tell you, a team effort.
“Everything I am is because of him. It’s as simple as that,” Wayne said in this 1996 CBC interview.
Everything, however, did not run smoothly.
A chain smoker, five days after his 53rd birthday in 1991 and and just months into his retirement, Walter Gretzky suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm that impaired his short-term memory.
“Those were dark times,” he wrote about the early days after the stroke, “and I wouldn’t want to go back there for anything in the world. It’s an awful thing not to know who or where you are, to feel confused and hopeless and not know whether you are ever going to be able to do all the things you used to.”
But, as the Canadian Press’s Neil Davidson wrote in his obituary last night, Walter carried on, raising money for charities and running hockey camps and being, well, Wayne’s father.
“Hockey helped his recovery as he started working with kids in the Brantford Minor Hockey Association. The four- and five-year-olds used to call him Wally,” Davidson reports.
“He was a much sought-after speaker by groups organizing sports awards dinners, and he worked tirelessly as national spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.”
Gretzky was never far from the spotlight and, it seemed, the older he got the better he felt.
“In 2010, Walter carried the Olympic torch on the last day of the Olympic relay in the leadup to the opening ceremonies in Vancouver, where Wayne lit the Olympic flame,” Davidson reports.
“In his remaining years, he was more outgoing and carefree. After one game when his minor hockey team was downcast, he invited everyone to his home to see Wayne’s memorabilia. There were 61 of them. He also became an avid golfer.”
In December, of 2005, Gretzky’s wife, Phyllis, died of lung cancer.
Seven years later, in 2012, he was diagnosed with the degenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease when tremors in his left hand prompted a doctor’s visit.
He carried on…ever helpful, ever smiling, ever humble.
‘”I really don’t like to sit still for too long,” Davidson quotes Gretzky once saying.
“I’m most comfortable when I’m active.”
He is survived, Davidson reports, by his five children: Wayne, Kim, Keith, Glen and Brent, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
With files from The Canadian Press (Neil Davidson), CBC News