March 4 (UPI) -- Walter Gretzky, the father of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, has died, his son said late Thursday. He was 82.
The Great One announced his father's death on Twitter on behalf of his family, stating Walter had "bravely battled" Parkinson's disease and other health issues over the past few years.
"For my sister and my three brothers, dad was our team captain -- he guided, protected and led our family every day, every step of the way," Wayne said. "For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey. He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey, but in life."
Walter was the patriarch to the world's most famous hockey family, having raised most notably the sport's all-time leading scorer but also Brent Gretzky, who briefly played for the Tampa Bay Lighting in the 1990s, and Keith Gretzky, who is an NHL executive, currently with the Edmonton Oilers.
Widely considered Canada's hockey dad, Walter, born on Oct. 8, 1938, worked for Bell Canada for 34 years until he retired in 1991 and despite the acclaim he and his family would receive he carried himself as if he were like any other Canadian, The Toronto Star reported.
"I'd say, more than anything, we are ordinary people who have had some extraordinary things happen to us," Walter wrote in the introduction to his autobiography. "Maybe that's why so many others feel comfortable approaching me and telling me their own stories -- and I've heard them all, including very sad ones. Whether I'm at home or on the road, I do what I can to help."
However, the Canning, Ont.-native was known for more than just having taught hockey to his sons on their backyard rink in Branford and is also respected for his actions outside the game.
Walter was awarded the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2008, "[for] his contributions to minor hockey in Canada, and for his dedication to helping a myriad of local, provincial and national charities," the CBC reported.
"He truly was the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know," Wayne said.
Following news of Walter's death, the hockey world mourned his death online.
The New York Rangers, for which Wayne played his final three seasons for, called Walter "an extremely humble and kind man who led an extraordinary life."
"Walter's presence and positive energy lit up any room he was in and his smile, laugh and unwavering generosity will be missed," the organization said in a statement.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist for Team Canada and hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser said she had spent "some great times" with Walter with her favorite memory of when they visited Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas together.
"He was always a kid at heart and spent is life giving to make others lives better," she said via Twitter. "[Canada's] hockey dad."
The NHL Alumni Association said people will be remembered for what they do for others and because of this Walter will never be forgotten.
"Never too busy to take a photo or sign an autograph, Walter left a lasting impression on everyone he met and he will forever be Canada's Hockey Dad," the NHL Alumni said in a statement.