Family Is First

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Wayne Skilled At Stickhandling Through Hectic Lifestyle
By TERRY JONES, Sun Media

PHOENIX — You’d think Trevor Gretzky would look at grandpa Walter and his dad, Wayne, and wonder.

But he doesn’t. Despite the schedule his dad keeps and the fact he spends the hockey season in Phoenix with the Coyotes while mom Janet and the family live in Los Angeles, 15-year-old Trevor figures it’s not so much different being Wayne’s son as it was for his dad being Walter’s.

“It’s kinda the same, I think, as with him and his dad,” he said.

Uncle Glen said that’s true. Well, sort of.

“As a family, we did everything together. It’s the same with Wayne,” Wayne’s younger brother Glen said.

“When we went on a holiday, we all climbed in the old station wagon. It’s like that with them, but when they go it’s in his private jet.

“He makes it work. Every time I’m here, some of the kids are here. It’s not too often that there isn’t somebody from the family at his house. Wayne is the most committed guy with anything he does. It’s the same with his kids as it was for dad with us kids.”

“It doesn’t make much sense to some people with the kids living in L.A. with their mom. But it works fine,” Walter said. “Their dad is their dad. They’re all happy. Even though Wayne is busy and Janet is busy, they have time for their kids and get involved in what their kids get involved in, like we did with ours.”

It was a family scene at last year’s Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp as Trevor, a tall, slender kid, suited up as a goalie.

“I told him he’s so tall, he reminded me of Ken Dryden standing in goal,” Wayne said. “He said ‘who’s Ken Dryden?’”

After his dad coached the Coyotes to a win during the camp, Trevor had brother Tristan, 7, putting on his pads so he could take shots at his kid brother.

“Does your dad know you’re a goalie?” I asked young Tristan.

“Not yet,” the cute kid said with a giggle.

Last year, brother Ty, 17, played in the camp. He went to play hockey last year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s high school in Minnesota, but stayed home this year.

“He’s serious about golf,” said Trevor, who describes himself as mostly a baseball player and a football tight end.

“Ty was going to go live with my mom and dad in Brantford, but then my mom got sick,” Wayne said. “He didn’t play a lot. He realized he was not going to be a player. But it was all good. He lived away from home and he loved the year. He’s not going to look back when he’s 25 wishing he’d given it a try.”

Gretzky’s oldest, Paulina, who was such a hit singing the national anthem at the Heritage Classic outdoor game in Edmonton, is now 19.

Paulina is working on her singing and acting career. She chose not to go to college, but rather to work with a singing coach and take acting lessons.

His youngest, Emma, is four.

“I work the schedule so I can leave here after a game and grab a couple days at home. And they come here every second weekend. It works out,” Wayne said.

Trevor said the cool part of the Fantasy Camp week was having Grandpa Gretzky involved as well. Walter makes only two or three trips here a year.

“Grandpa has taught me a lot about life. Grandpa taught dad well,” Trevor said.

Walter was recently informed he’d won the Order of Canada.

“I don’t know anybody who does more in his life than my father, running coast to coast for the blind kids, going to hospitals at Christmas time, being honorary chairman of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and everything else he does,” said Wayne, an Order of Canada winner himself.

“He was always a charitable person, but when he went through his aneurism, he really placed a huge emphasis on helping a lot of people. He really is special that way. If anybody is deserving of the award it’s my dad.”

Walter is blown away by it.

“My parents were White Russians from Belarus. They wouldn’t be able to comprehend. When the Governor General called, I was stunned. I still can’t get over it. It’s such an honour. It’s incredible. It’s crazy. Canada is the best country in the world. I can say it. I can prove it,” said the man who is also the Lord Mayor of Brantford now, too.

Walter just wished his wife Phyllis would have lived to see him receive the Order. Losing Phyllis, in December 2005, obviously, had a major impact on both Walter and Wayne.

“When my mother passed away, it was 10:30 at night,” Wayne said. “I went back and had a bunch of people come to our house that night. By 1:30 in the morning, my dad still wasn’t back. I was getting worried. Finally he showed up. I asked his friend Charlie Henry ‘Where have you guys been?’

“Charlie said dad wouldn’t leave the hospital bed. He said he sang to my mom for two hours. He always sang to her. And he couldn’t carry a tune. I said that’s probably what killed her.”

Walter said it was a thing they had.

“I always sang to Phyllis. I sang to her a lot. She used to tell me ‘Walter be quiet. You’re giving me a headache.’”

Wayne made it to the hospital in time.

“He was the last person she stared at before she left us,” Walter said.

“He was at the foot of the bed. Iím at the side of the bed holding her hands. Suddenly, her eyes started flickering. She tried to lift her head to see Wayne. I put my hand on the back of her head to help her. Then her eyes stopped flickering and she stared at Wayne for a full 10 seconds. Then she reached her arm out above his head for another 10 seconds. Then she was gone.

“Wayne said ‘I felt her take me in her arms.’ That sounds silly. But he said he felt him take her in her arms and physically felt her leave. She held on just to see Wayne. I know that for sure. Then she was gone.”