Walter Gretzky, the father of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, has passed away at the age of 82 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Wayne announced the sad news via Twitter on Thursday, March 4, saying his father “bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues over these last few years, but he never let it get him down.”
“For my sister and my 3 brothers, Dad was our team captain — he guided, protected and led our family every day, every step of the way,” the grieving son wrote. “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.”
Wayne continued: “We will miss him so much, but know that he’s back with our mom and that brings me and my family peace. He truly was the Great one and the proudest Canadian we know.” Wayne’s mom and Walter’s wife, Phyllis, died of lung cancer in 2005.
Walter taught his son how to play hockey on a rink he had built in their backyard. As Wayne’s star started to ascend, Walter made a name for himself appearing alongside his son in commercials for Coca-Cola and Canadian fast-food chain Tim Horton’s.
Many high-profile figures mourned the loss of Walter on social media. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called him “Canada’s hockey dad,” writing, “Walter Gretzky cared deeply about his family and his community — his kindness was undeniable, his passion was obvious, and his impact was immense. My thoughts are with Wayne and the entire Gretzky family…”
The Toronto Maple Leafs tweeted, “The Maple Leafs join the hockey community in mourning the loss of Canada's hockey dad, Walter Gretzky. A warm and gracious fixture at Maple Leafs home games for years, Walter made everyone he met feel special. Our condolences to the Gretzky family & Walter's innumerable friends”
Canadian rock vocalist and sports broadcaster Tara Sloane remembered the late Walter, saying “[he] came to many @hometownhockey_ stops,” referring to the local hockey tour she hosted. “He dropped pucks, signed autographs, took photos, and held court... the arena was his kingdom. He brought joy to everyone.”