Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, the ultimate Canadian hockey dad who taught and nurtured the Great One, has died. He was 82.

The father of Wayne Gretzky became a name himself, a constant in Wayne’s world. As Wayne’s star ascended, Walter remained a blue-collar symbol of a devoted hockey parent in a country filled with them.

Wayne Gretzky confirmed his father’s death on Thursday night with a social media post.

“It’s with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my dad,” said Wayne. “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years, but he never let it get him down.

“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.”

The two were also often intertwined, their father-son story used in commercials from Tim Hortons to Coca-Cola. And following in the footsteps of Alexander Graham Bell, they made Brantford, Ont., famous.

Walter was celebrated for far more than just fathering a superstar, however. His down-to-earth, no-airs approach to life and devotion to his family struck a chord with Canadians.

“Sometimes, I swear to you, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming,” Walter wrote in his 2001 autobiography “Walter Gretzky. On Family, Hockey and Healing.”

“Wayne says the same thing.”

Walter’s celebrity status increased after making a remarkable recovery from a stroke suffered in 1991. His autobiography and a 2005 made-for-TV movie told the story.

Walter Gretzky was the son of immigrants — a Polish mother and Russian father — who started a vegetable farm in 1932 in Canning, Ont., just outside Brantford, on the Nith River, where Wayne learned to skate when he was two. They bought it for $600.

Walter’s father Tony, whose parents had emigrated to the U.S., came to Canada from Chicago to enlist during the First World War with his name switching to Gretzky from Gretsky because he did not know how to write in English. Walter’s mother Mary came to Canada by herself in 1921 as an 18-year-old.

Walter’s parents met in Toronto in the 1930s. He was the fifth of seven children.

He played minor hockey in Paris, Ont., then junior B for four years in Woodstock. He went on to play some senior hockey but said he wasn’t good enough to play pro.

Walter met Phyllis, his wife to be, at a wiener roast at the family farm. She was 15 at the time. Three years later, they got married.

Wayne was the first born in 1961, followed by Kim, Keith, Glen and Brent. Keith and Brent also played professional hockey.

The same year as Wayne was born, Walter fractured his skull in a work accident as a Bell lineman. He spent some time in a coma and was off work for 18 months. Left deaf in his right ear, he was eventually transferred to another Bell department and became an installer/repairman.

The winter when Wayne was four, his father turned the backyard of their Brantford home into a rink which young Wayne called The Wally Coliseum. From the time he was a tot, Wayne wanted to do nothing but play hockey.

Walter decided to make his own rink to avoid having to freeze standing outdoors at some outdoor rink elsewhere — or sit in his car with the engine running to get some heat — while Wayne skated.

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