A member of Ontario’s ag community remembers spending a day with the late hockey dad
By Diego Flammini
Canada’s hockey community mourned with the Gretzky family over the weekend as they held a funeral service for its patriarch, Walter.
The service, held at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford, Ont., was broadcast nationally Saturday on CBC. Outside the church, supporters lined the sidewalks and tapped their hockey sticks as the hearses left after the funeral.
After the 82-year-old passed away on March 4, social and traditional media dedicated time and newspaper space to remember Walter and how the backyard rink helped develop his son Wayne into the game’s greatest player.
A recurring theme that surfaced was Walter’s humility and how he always accommodated people who wanted a moment of his time.
Paul Nolan, Better Farming’s editorial director, recalls one such instance.
Nolan was an assistant coach for the Guelph Storm’s AAA hockey team in December 2011. The team was competing in a tournament at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre when Walter arrived and spent the day with Nolan and the rest of the Guelph team.
Paul Nolan, his son Liam and Walter Gretzky./Paul Nolan photo
“He was all alone when he walked into the rink. He could’ve been anybody’s grandfather," Nolan told Farms.com. “People came over to him all day, asking for photos and autographs. And he accommodated every single person, all day long. This went on for hours and hours.”
Gretzky signed so many autographs Nolan began to worry.
Nolan insisted Gretzky take a seat or have a bite to eat, but the famous hockey dad refused.
“All day long I’m telling him he needs to sit down and offering to get him a sandwich or a coffee or a donut,” he said. “He would look at me and just laugh out loud. He loved it. It was an unbelievable day and I will never forget it.”
Many people admired Gretzky because of his down-to-earth nature.
He never moved out of the home on 42 Varadi Ave. where he and his wife, Phyllis, raised Wayne, Brent, Kim, Glen and Keith.
He turned that home into a museum where hockey enthusiasts could come and receive a Walter-guided tour of where the Gretzky kids grew up, surrounded by trophies, medals and posters.
Keith and Brent also played in the NHL but didn’t achieve the level of success Wayne did.
Walter could’ve moved to the U.S., but instead he chose to remain in Brantford, Nolan said.
“Think about how much money Walter would have made traveling to different rinks around Canada and the U.S. hosting hockey clinics,” Nolan said. “Or how Wayne would have bought him a home and he could’ve lived in a friendlier climate like California."
Wayne even touched on this during his eulogy Saturday, saying his “five children are American, born in the United States, and I always tell them you should be as proud of the United States as your grandfather is of Canada, because that’s how much he loves the country,” he said.
Do you have any personal memories of Walter Gretzky?
Top photo: City of Brantford