Walter Gretzky was the son of Polish immigrants. His father came from Grodno Governorate, than Poland now Belarus, his mother, from Pidhaitsi (now Ukraine); they immigrated to Canada via Krakow in Poland. Walter played ice hockey for much of his youth, but never made it beyond juniors. He met his wife Phyllis Hockin at a wiener roast at the Gretzky farm when she was 15 and he was 18.
Walter was an installer and repairman for Bell Canada for 34 years, retiring in 1991. A work-related injury he suffered in 1961 left him in a coma, and resulted in deafness in his right ear. Five days after his 53rd birthday in 1991, he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm which destroyed his long-term memory. His physical therapist, Ian Kohler, married his daughter Kim in 1995. His ordeal is the basis of the CBC movie Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story. He spends his time helping charities and fundraisers and coaching at his summer youth hockey camp in California. In his book Walter recounts that during his recovery from his brain aneurysm, the only language he could speak was Ukrainian.
From September 2004 to January 2005, Walter was an assistant coach for the University of Pittsburgh inline hockey team. A long time friend of head coach Bob Coyne, Walter was an assistant along with Bob Bradley and Tim Fryer. Pitt participated in the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (ECRHA) at the Division I level. Walter, Bob Coyne, and Bob Bradley did not finish the season with the team.
Fans come to his house to see his basement, stuffed with mementos from Wayne's amateur career, and his backyard, which, every winter, was turned into a "rink" Walter taught his sons and their friends hockey on. The "rink" was replaced by a swimming pool on the day Wayne was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. His other children - Kim, Keith, Glen, and Brent - were also athletic. Brent, drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, played 13 NHL games. Keith, drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1985, never made it to the NHL, but has coached in the minors (he was Brent's coach when both were with the UHL Asheville Smoke). Kim was an exceptional track and field star.
He has written two books: On Family, Hockey and Healing (2003), and Gretzky: From Backyard Rink to the Stanley Cup (1985), in which he recounted how he recognized Wayne's prodigious skills and shaped him into the most prolific scorer in hockey history. In an unusually frank 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wayne recounted how Walter would build him up one minute and tear him down the next, reminding him constantly that he could never have an "average" game. Not surprisingly, Wayne reportedly has tried to get his own three sons involved in sports other than hockey.