Walter Gretzky has passed away. He was 82. He’d been battling Parkinson’s disease for years, but he never seemed to let it get him down, or slow his activities.
I know this isn’t a music post, but an entire nation, the entire hockey world, feels this passing.
It’s likely we all have at least one Walter story. Maybe we met him, or something he did affected our lives, or we just saw him on TV or heard about him being awesome. I had the good fortune to meet him, here in my town at a charity hockey game (his son Brent was playing). He was signing autographs at a table in the lobby. I asked if maybe he could sign one autograph to both my kids’ names (didn’t want to bother him or ask too much), but he wouldn’t hear of it. He signed two cards, one for each, asking their names and their spellings, and taking care with the pen to be as neat as his hand would allow. My own Dad then told him that his son (Wayne) was the best hockey player ever, to which Walter replied something to the effect of “Oh, thank you. He did alright.” Understated and gentle, as ever. I also remember we could see him from our seats a few rows down at the ice, he was making faces and smiling at the young kids, just being playful. Joyous, calm. He seemed to radiate understanding, patience and gentleness.
Yes, Walter was the father of probably the greatest hockey player ever, but Wayne’s sibling’s have stories too:
“Fans come to his house to see his basement, stuffed with mementos from Wayne’s amateur career, and his backyard, which, every winter, was turned into a “rink” on which Walter taught his sons and their friends to play hockey. The “rink” was replaced by a swimming pool on the day Wayne was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. His other children – Kim, Keith, Glen, and Brent – were also athletic. Brent, drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, played 13 NHL games. Keith, drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1985, never made it to the NHL but has coached in the minors (he was Brent’s coach when both were with the UHL Asheville Smoke). Kim was an exceptional track and field star, but broke her foot at the age of 15 and never ran again.” (Wiki)
It was a lifetime of achievement and hockey, and charity work with the CNIB and the SCORE program, and the Order Of Canada for his contributions. But more than all that (yes, more), it seemed he was there for everyone.
RIP to Canada’s hockey dad.