Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, died Thursday, his son tweeted. He was 82 and had battled Parkinson’s disease for nine years.
“It is with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my dad,” Wayne Gretzky wrote on Twitter. “He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years but he never let it get him down.
“He was truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”
The retired Bell Canada telephone technician was often referred to as Canada’s most famous hockey dad, the Toronto Star reported.
Wayne Gretzky honed his skills in a backyard rink his father built, a slab of ice that was dubbed “Wally Coliseum,” the newspaper reported.
“Everything I am is because of him,” Wayne once told the CBC in a 1996 interview.
Walter Gretzky was born on Oct. 8, 1938, in Canning, Ontario, to Belarussian immigrants, CBC reported. He dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League and was a prolific goal scorer as a teenager, the network reported.
However, at 5 feet, 9 inches tall, Walter Gretzky’s size and a bout with chickenpox prevented him from pursuing hockey farther than the junior league level.
He married Phyllis Hockin in 1960 and moved to nearby Brantford, where he worked as a telephone cable repairman, the CBC reported. Wayne was born on Jan. 26, 1961, the first of the couple’s five children.
Gretzky worked for Bell Canada for 34 years and reportedly lost hearing in one ear after an on-the-job injury, the Star reported.
He also recovered from a stroke he suffered in 1991, CTV reported.
It took Walter Gretzky several years to recover, the Star reported. His road to recovery was documented in the 2005 movie, “Waking up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story.”
“I wasn’t supposed to live in 1991,” Gretzky told the Brantford Expositor when the movie was being produced. “Every second of every day is precious to me.”
While other fathers slept in, Walter Gretzky rose before dawn, traveling through Brantford’s snowy streets to take his boys to hockey practice, the Star reported.
He coached locally in Brantford with minor league teams for years and lent his time to minor tournaments, CBC reported.
“You were my first teammate, you built my first rink, bought my first stick, and took me out at first light,” Wayne Gretzky said as part of a Father’s Day video tribute he produced in 2016. “You were the first defender I faced, the first goalie I scored on, and my first coach. My first fan, and my biggest. From my first step on the ice until my last step off of it, you were there for me.”