'Toughest' of the Gretzkys, Phyllis dies at 64

TORONTO -- Phyllis Gretzky, the mother of hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, died Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes said. She was 64.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer late in 2004 and died two nights after her son took an indefinite leave of absence as coach of the Coyotes to return home to Ontario to be with her.

"Throughout my career, she was in the background but she was the glue," Wayne Gretzky said at the time of his mother's diagnosis. "She's always been the toughest in the family."

The 43-year-old Gretzky, the NHL's career leading scorer, left the Coyotes on Saturday night in Los Angeles.

He is also the executive director of Canada's Olympic hockey team, which is expected to announce its roster for the Turin Games on Wednesday.

It is not known when or if he will return to those jobs.

The down-to-earth mother of five was perhaps the least known of the Gretzky family as she tried to maintain privacy for her children amid the spotlight of Wayne's celebrity status.

Wayne Gretzky's phenomenal success created much curiosity about the family. His father was comfortable in the public eye, while his mother preferred to keep a low profile. She sought to maintain a normal lifestyle, and the community around her respected that.

Phyllis Hockin was born and raised in Paris, Ontario, of British ancestry. She was a descendant of Isaac Brock, a general with British forces during the War of 1812.

She met her future husband when she was 15, and the couple married three years later in 1960. Wayne was her first-born child, and he learned how to play hockey on a backyard rink. She would drive her children to early-morning hockey practices. Her husband, Walter, would go to games after work in the evenings.

She is survived by her husband, all five children and 12 grandchildren.