From the very first fundraising tennis tournament more than 30 years ago, Wayne Gretzky has been in awe of the work his dad, Walter, has done to help others.
“My friend John Mowat and I thought we were going to have this great event and raise all kinds of money,” Gretzky said. “John’s dad and my dad basically had to run the whole event, sat everybody and served everybody and we just broke even.
“But my dad put $1,000 in of his own money to make sure the charities got paid that year.”
This week marked the 20th and final Walter Gretzky CNIB Golf Classic. The Great One hopes everyone remembers the good times and good people.
“I hope that everyone had a wonderful time doing something that is for a great cause,” Gretzky said. “I know there are a lot of families and people in Brantford – like the Rizzo family, people like Ron Finucan and Zig Misiak – who jumped in from day one just to help my dad and be part of doing something special for kids that are less fortunate.
“Those are the best memories and that’s what it’s all about.”
The much-told story about blind teenagers recognizing 19-year-old Wayne’s voice at the airport in Toronto as the inspiration for the CNIB fundraiser is only part of the reason Gretzky continues to use his star power to support the organization. The other major reason is because the CNIB has become so close to his father’s heart.
“Growing up in Brantford and having the CNIB being a big part of our city, with the W. Ross Macdonald school in our hometown, when I did the first tennis classic we as a family felt that it was the right charity for us to be involved with,” Gretzky said. “As time went on, my dad spent more time at the school and traveling across the country for them. It became a part of his life.
“To this day, (Walter) has always felt a strong bond and connection with the CNIB across Canada.”
While spearheading many of his own charitable endeavours through the Wayne Gretzky Foundation, Wayne is exceptionally proud of the work Walter continues to do at the age of 73.
“I don’t think there is anybody in Canada that does more for less fortunate people than my father,” Wayne said. “Coast to coast, he does as much or more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Supporting his father and other family members was instilled in Gretzky at a young age.
“That is what family is all about,” he said. “We learned that from our grandparents, my mom and my dad. The good thing about being Canadian and growing up in Brantford is that everybody is extremely close.”
The same “Canadian values” are what still push Gretzky to spend much of his free time on charitable causes.
“Everybody understands that we are very blessed and very lucky,” Gretzky said. “If we can help those less fortunate people, that is what life is all about.”
Aside from spending some of his time on philanthropy, Gretzky is busy with his wife, Janet, and children, Paulina, Ty, Trevor, Tristan and Emma.
Trevor is already following his father’s path to professional sports, only with a bat instead of a stick. Trevor was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2011 MLB draft and made his debut with the AZL Cubs in the rookie Arizona league in the first week of June. The team is hoping Trevor can eventually develop into a power-hitting fielder that inherits his dad’s hand-eye co-ordination.
Similarly, Paulina has followed in her mother’s footsteps, embarking on a singing and modeling career. Her single Collecting Dust was featured in an MTV television show and has sold well on iTunes. Just last week, Wayne was in Toronto to receive the inaugural Order of Hockey in Canada award, which will now be bestowed by Hockey Canada upon those who have had an exemplary impact on the game.
While there, Wayne took time to spend a few days with his dad in Brantford.
“I got a chance to go to church and to just be around Brantford for a few days,” he said. “I always enjoy coming there and going out to see some old friends.
“It’s always been a very positive relationship I have (with Brantford). I have a lot of good friends that I grew up with and old school teachers I periodically see. It’s nothing but good memories for me, because that is what life is all about.”