The hockey world was in mourning Thursday night after Wayne Gretzky announced the passing of his father, Walter, at age 82.
“It is with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my dad,” he wrote on Twitter. “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years, but he never let it get him down. For my sister and my 3 brothers, Dad was our team captain — 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.”
— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) March 5, 2021
While Wayne earned the moniker “The Great One” for his skill on the ice, the elder Gretzky was often called “Canada’s Hockey Dad.” A blue-collar guy from Ontario who worked for Bell, Walter settled in Brantford to raise his family of five and was credited with passing on his yeomanlike worth ethic to his eldest, Wayne.
“I always go back to what my dad told me when I was 6 years old,” Wayne recalled during a Q&A with “In Search of Greatness” director Gave Polsky in April 2020. “I was skating in the backyard from seven in the morning till seven at night, came in for a quick bowl of soup around 12:30, went right back and I was always on the ice by myself. And I always remember him saying to me, ‘I don’t know why the good Lord chose you, but he’s given you a passion.'”
Walter nurtured that passion by always being at his games and practices, by finding him a place to play hockey, kids to play against and delivering numerous lessons to him, including the idea that “being too systematic” at a young age takes away creativity from hockey players. Wayne Gretzky was one of the most creative players the game has ever seen.
After suffering a stroke at age 53, Walter used hockey to heal by working with kids in the Brantford Minor Hockey Association. Named to the Order of Canada in 2007, he also carried the Olympic torch during the 2010 relay in Vancouver. Walter and Wayne were forever connected as Wayne became the NHL’s all-time goal scorer and the holder of 60-plus records. But while the hockey accolades were nice, he also made sure to raise good kids — Wayne and his siblings Kim, Keith, Glen and Brent (Keith and Brent also played in the NHL).
“We always lived by a rule with my mom and dad . . . it’s everybody can say ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘Excuse me,’ and if you learn that really early in life it goes a long way,” Wayne Gretzky said in the Q&A with Polsky, also adding that his dad made sure he was always on top of his studies.
After learning of Walter’s passing, the hockey world mourned online.
Wayne Gretzky, 1999: "My dad is a blue-collar man who worked 8 to 5 every day, never missed a day of work, never made over $35,000 a year. But everything he made he put into his kids." https://t.co/lZNRDJQGhf
— Ian O'Connor (@Ian_OConnor) March 5, 2021