While at home being cared for by his daughter, Kim, 81-year-old Walter Gretzky is still inviting perfect strangers through his front door, allowing tourists desiring a glimpse of hockey greatness into the home of ‘The Great One.’ Kim wears many hats in the Gretzky family, one of them now being the one that requires her to turn away some fans at the door.
The Gretzky family’s support of the CNIB, formerly known as Canadian National Institute for the Blind, in Brantford, Ont., is well known throughout the hockey industry and has been just another contribution of Walter’s to the local community.
In a recent interview with Wayne for The Hockey News and Sports Illustrated, I discovered that I had the first half of a story about Walter, but didn’t know all the details. Wayne was able to fill in the blanks, and once we had each told our sides of the story, we shared a good laugh and a great moment celebrating a small part of what makes Walter Gretzky the real ‘Great One’.
Graeme Roustan: Walter Gretzky is famous around my [hockey stick] factory in Hespeler. He comes over for sticks, and many years he would walk in the front door, walk through the factory. Everybody knows him there. They love him there and still talk about him. How’s he doing?
Wayne Gretzky: Dad used to brag about going there and picking up the sticks. You know what he would do with them? He would take them to the blind school at the CNIB in Brantford. Two of the 12 sticks he would have me sign and give them to the kids. The other 10 he would take to the school and the kids would make chairs and benches out of the sticks. I should get my brother to send you pictures of some of the benches. They’re actually pretty spectacular.
GR: Your dad would walk in the front door, walk around, ask employees, “Hey, are you finished with that stick? Can I take it? Do you need it?” He would walk out with dozens of sticks. I asked, “Did anyone ever pay for the sticks?” And my guy there said, “Walter Gretzky pay for sticks? Are you nuts?”
WG: One time at dinner when (my dad) went for his wallet, I said, “Oh, my gosh. The dust may come out of that wallet, dad.” I know people didn’t know what he was doing (with the sticks), but he was actually taking them down to the blind school for the kids to make benches and chairs and all sorts of things. So, that was where your sticks were going.
GR: That’s a good thing. Obviously, he hasn’t been around, but the employees miss him. They wish he was around. He was part of the fabric of the company. One employee told me, “He’s been to this factory more than I have, but he’s never been on the payroll.”
WG: Yeah, he’s on my payroll.
GR: That’s hilarious. Thanks, Wayne. I appreciate it.