HANS DERYK/Associated Press
Walter Gretzky, the father of NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, died at the age of 82 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease as well as other health issues, the family announced.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday evening, Wayne Gretzky said his father was “truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know” and called him the reason he fell in love with hockey. Tributes from across the sport poured in for both Walter and the Gretzky family as news of Walter’s death spread Thursday.
Gretzky has long credited the rink his father built in their backyard, and his quizzes on the ins-and-outs of the game, as the reason for his success in the sport.
A first-generation Canadian born to Belarusian immigrants in 1938, Walter Gretzky played youth hockey but never made a professional career of it. Instead, he raised the greatest player the sport has ever seen, teaching Wayne how to skate from age three and on.
“He taught me the basics of life as far as schooling, as far as how I treated people,” Wayne said in a 1996 interview with CBC-TV. “I don’t think there’s any question in my mind I wouldn’t be playing professional hockey if it wasn’t for him.”
Walter coached two more of his children, Brent and Keith, through their amateur careers before both were drafted to the NHL.
He continued to coach minor league teams around Brantford, Canada, while getting further involved in philanthropic endeavors. After working to establish the Wayne and Walter Gretzky Scholarship Foundation, as well as raising money for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind among other charitable efforts, Walter was named to the Order of Canada in 2017, one of the highest honors bestowed upon a Canadian citizen.
He’s survived by his five children and numerous grandchildren.
Walter’s wife, Phyllis Hockin, died of lung cancer in 2005.