Funeral in Ontario draws hundreds

Updated: December 22, 2005, 6:25 PM ET
Associated Press

BRANTFORD, Ontario -- Wayne Gretzky mourned one of his greatest losses Thursday, bidding farewell to the quiet matriarch that kept his family together.

"People in Canada knew her as a hockey mother, but we knew her as just a wonderful person," Gretzky said, holding back tears in a touching eulogy to his mother, Phyllis.

The Anglican funeral service drew hundreds, including players and fans, to the southwestern Ontario city of about 90,000 people.

Phyllis Gretzky, a mother of five and grandmother of 13, was a beacon her children sought in times of need, the 44-year-old Gretzky said.

"If we got in trouble and needed to get out of trouble, we went to our mother," he said. "She cherished the moments she had, not only with her kids, but with her grandchildren. Her eyes used to light up each and every day if she got a phone call from a grandchild, a note, a letter or a gift."

Gretzky's 64-year-old mother died Monday night. She was surrounded by her children after a yearlong battle with lung cancer.

Gretzky's 67-year-old father Walter stood up and hugged his son after the eulogy.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former hockey star Paul Coffey attended the service at Grace Anglican Church.

The service concluded with a song and a video montage of family highlights.

Escorted by his wife Janet, Gretzky and the rest of his family followed Phyllis's casket, draped in a white shawl, to burial.

"It was a great service for a great lady," former Gretzky teammate Shayne Corson said as church bells rang.

The mayor of Brantford, a city where Gretzky's name graces hockey arenas and flags flew at half-staff Thursday, called it a dark day.

"This whole city is in mourning," Mike Hancock said. "We all feel we lost a family member."

Gretzky, executive director of Canada's men's Olympic hockey team, wasn't in Vancouver when the team was announced on Wednesday, but will resume his duties with the team in January, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said.

The NHL's career scoring leader also put his coaching career with the Phoenix Coyotes on hold last week after his mother's health worsened.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press