Walter Gretzky, waving to fans at a Toronto Maple Leafs game on Jan. 17, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP photo)

Walter Gretzky, waving to fans at a Toronto Maple Leafs game on Jan. 17, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP photo)

There were two Walter Gretzkys – both great ones

Canada’s iconic hockey dad made our country a better place

A significant piece of Canada entered history last week.

Walter Gretzky died at age 82, surrounded by his family.

It was a great pleasure to know Walter, and spend time with him on many occasions when our family lived in Ontario.

Being friendly with a celebrity sounds cool, at least unique.

However, anyone in Brantford or Brant County who had a kid at an arena knew the man.

Long after Wayne hung up his jersey, Walter was showing up at local rinks, year-end banquets and community fundraisers whenever he thought he might help.

Overheard in the newsroom: “That guy would appear at the opening of a cheese slice, if someone asked him to.”

Walter was as famous for his autographs – always that enigmatic ‘W Gretzky’ scrawl ­– as Wayne was for his ability to find the back of a net. I’ve at least a dozen signatures, in a box in the closet. He liked especially to sign team or player photos, and sticks and skate bags.

Overheard in the lobby: “Don’t linger, sweetheart. If you stand around too long, Walter will write on you.”

It wasn’t ego, nor self-importance. Walter took joy in being around young athletes, meeting them, watching them play and offering encouragement.

In doing so, he created happiness for lots of people. I think he also liked the smell of ice.

There were really two Walter Gretzkys, separated by a brain aneurysm he suffered in 1991. In a eulogy to his father during the funeral service held Saturday, Wayne remarked that before that almost fatal incident “he was a lot tougher.”

You can’t raise up the greatest hockey player in the world without some grit and determination, presumably.

Wayne recalled a tournament in Whitby, Ont., on a fateful weekend. Mom Phyllis was going into labour with their son Brent. She headed for the hospital and Walter went to Whitby. Days later, after facing admonishment from friends and family about missing the birth, a frustrated Walter protested, ‘WE WON THE TROPHY!’

Walter’s brain injury severely affected his memory.

I interviewed him for a magazine feature, a few years afterward, and he talked freely about those consequences. Following the aneurysm he was able to recall nothing of Wayne’s professional hockey career – not the rings, not the records, not the fame. It was just all…gone.

Only, during that same time, Wayne married Janet Jones. Walter remembered the wedding. It struck as cruel irony, but also a lesson in what it really means to keep one’s head in the game.

Walter Gretzky was the son of immigrants. With Phyllis he created a remarkable family – Wayne, Kim, Brent, Glen and Keith – and made Canada a better

place.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:mailto:andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com


 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Windsurfers enjoying a windstorm on Skaha Lake in Penticton on March 28, 2021. (Sandy Steck Photography)
Wind warning issued for Okanagan Valley

Boaters are being warned of gusts up to 70 km/h by late afternoon on Sunday

Vernon Vipers forward Ryan Shostak (centre) fends off a check from Salmon Arm defenceman to get a close-in scoring attempt on Silverbacks goalie Owen Say during Vernon’s 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play shootout victory Saturday, April 17, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers photography)
Vernon Vipers use shootout to subdue Salmon Arm

Snakes score 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play win at Kal Tire Place

Coldstream Fire Department crews stationed at Kal Lake Provincial Park parking lot on Cosens Bay Road on Sunday, April 18, after a car went over a cliff in the area. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Driver escapes after car goes over cliff in Coldstream near Kal Lake Park

The driver has been transported to hospital with unspecified injuries

A GoFundMe page has been launched for a Vernon man whose BX orchard property home off Pleasant Valley Road near Stickle Road was totally destroyed in a fire Saturday, April 17. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Fundraising campaign launched for Vernon man who lost home to fire

A GoFundMe page has been started by family; man taken to hospital with injuries from fire

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A Kelowna Pride Festival 2019 participant holds up a flag. (Kelowna Pride Society)
Kelowna Pride, RCMP continue to work on ‘Safe Place Program’

A new committee has been formed to refine the ‘Safe Place Program’ created by the Kelowna RCMP

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A strange odour at a West Kelowna apartment building prompted the evacuation of 150 residents on Sunday morning, April 18. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Strange smell at West Kelowna apartment prompts evacuation of 150 residents, pets

150 residents ordered evacuated from a West Kelowna apartment building early Sunday morning

This is what’s left of a truck that caught fire at Pyramid Provincial Park off Highway 97 near Summerland Saturday night. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Photo Gallery: Truck gutted by fire at popular Okanagan park, trees saved

Just a metal shell of what once was a pick up truck is left at the scene

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Most Read