Ordinary Poems for an Extraordinary Man
I can’t remember the first time I saw Walter. He was always around. In the mall. At the Paris Cenotaph every November 11th. At the rink. Hamming it up for kids. Telling stories to someone. Signing autographs. Taking time for others. On December 19, 2005, Walter lost his dear wife Phyllis. I remember that day because it was my son’s 5th birthday. So sad and especially six days before Christmas. I felt sorry for Walter, and I wanted to comfort him somehow. I wrote a poem about Phyllis and the love their family shared, and how she smiles down upon them all until they meet again. I mailed it to Water. Sending mail to Walter was like writing to Santa Claus … one simply had to print “Walter” on the envelope, and it would get to him! I thought nothing of it and time passed. I started getting phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored them time and time again. Finally, one night, my curiosity got the better of me and I snatched up the phone and practically shouted, “Hello!”. “Hello,” said the man on the other end of the line, “This is Walter Gretzky. You finally answered!” “Oh, my goodness!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were a telemarketer!” He laughed and we went on to have a heartfelt conversation. The father of the greatest hockey player of all time, phoning me and thanking me for my poem. I’m sure he had received thousands of condolences; but he personally phoned me to thank me and probably personally thanked everyone else also. That is just a hint to the kind of man Walter was. The next time I saw him in Paris, I introduced myself so that Walter could put a face to the woman who had ignored his phone calls. He got his trusty notepad and pen out of his hockey jacket and wrote down my name and address and the word poem. He said he’d come and visit us someday. I smiled, believing he was just being nice, and we parted ways. … Well if Walter didn’t come knocking on our door one evening! Just like we were old friends! He must have stood in our doorway for two hours (refusing to come in and sit down, since he didn’t want to intrude!) Every time he finished one story; he’d start up another one. “Honest to God!” he’d exclaim and on he’d ramble. He had me and my husband in stitches. Walter was extraordinary. Who would take the time to do that? An ordinary person, living a mundane life would struggle to find the time for others like that, never mind a man with thousands of contacts and connections not just across Canada, but across North America and beyond. But Walter remained golden of heart, humble, caring, and giving. I miss you, Walter. We were not best friends and I know I was one of many many people you were kind to. But I miss the fact that there isn’t “Walter out there” anymore. The world needs more Walter. A lot more. This poem is for you.
Brantford’s streets are somehow empty… leaves blowing down Varadi Ave.,
Restaurants and shops will be missing someone… the nicest patron they were blessed to have,
Sidewalks without that lively step… local landmarks the man will visit no more,
And on a peg in a little house… hangs the hockey jacket he always wore.
In the little place of Canning… in nineteen thirty-eight,
Was born a boy named Walter… he grew up loving to skate…
Out on the frozen Nith… the frost twinkling around his world,
Who knew then, the future he’d have… and the star that would be unfurled.
He married his teenage sweetheart, and with Phyllis made Brantford home,
He remained in that house the rest of his days, never wanting grandness or needing to roam.
He worked as telephone cable repairman… and the Gretzky family grew and grew,
On the backyard rink that Walter made… five kids grew up – loving skating too.
Walter loved coaching his young son Wayne – who as we all know, found hockey fame,
But stardom and greatness took a backseat… Walter and Phyllis remained the same.
When hard times with ill health threatened to defeat him… Walter would never let it get him down,
His family and friends were centre of the universe, along with the community of his hometown.
Overcoming incredible physical challenges… and in two thousand five, losing his wife,
Walter remained, optimistic and positive… and for the rest of his days, devoted his life…
To helping others, giving to charities, supporting minor hockey and the CNIB,
Making others feel special, taking time to chat, never wanting to see sadness, being all that he could be.
Visiting homes and hospital sick beds, making little kids laugh, wanting you to smile,
Inviting you to visit and see Wayne’s memorabilia, telling you stories, going that extra mile,
Giving out signatures, stopping you on the sidewalk, touching so many lives - everyone has a story,
Genuine and humble, contributing to society, making others feel special, without taking any glory.
If a standard exists, for being a human being… Walter Gretzky without knowing it, has set the bar high,
Canada’s “Beloved Hockey Dad”, will always be an example, that the rest of us should follow, or at the very least try,
The tributes pouring in, are a testament to the man… And reminds us to be giving - of time, kindness, and care,
Walter was their buddy, their friend, their “dad”, their star… His impact was immense, to thousands everywhere.
As the Gretzky’s mourn the loss of their dear patriarch… as they lay their “Team Captain” down to rest,
In a humble spirit, no doubt inherited… Perhaps his son, has said it best,
Giving the credit for all that he is - to the man who raised him - who was proud of his son,
As each of us everywhere will forever miss Walter – Wayne says of his Dad, “HE was the Great One”.