Inside Hockey Icon Wayne Gretzky's Inspiring Friendship with a Man with Down Syndrome: They've 'Always Gotten Along Like Peas and Carrots,' Says Brother
In 1981, when then-20-year-old hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky first met Joey Moss – the brother of Wayne’s girlfriend at the time – he had no idea where it would lead.
But Gretzky knew one thing – he wanted to do whatever he could to help the “outgoing, loving” teenager with Down syndrome.
“Pretty much from the day I met him I was conscious that I wanted to make sure he was taken care of,” Gretzky tells PEOPLE.
True to his word, the now-retired 55-year-old athlete, nicknamed “the Great One” for his awe-inspiring artistry on the ice and his staggering 61 NHL records, has made sure that Moss, now 52, was taken care of.
And along the way, Gretzky – who learned about Down syndrome firsthand as a boy after regularly spending his Sundays with his beloved Aunt Ellen [she died in 2003] – has also become something of a champion to others like Joey and their parents.
He not only transformed Moss’s life in 1984 when he secured him a job [which he still has] as a locker room attendant with the Edmonton Oilers, but he made sure Joey had a place to live after his mother died in 2007.
“Joey and Wayne,” says Moss’ brother Stephen, 47, have just always just gotten along like peas and carrots. He loves to spoil him.”
For more on Wayne Gretzky’s inspiring friendship, pick up a copy of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday
Through a series of golf tournaments beginning in 1985, Gretzky has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Edmonton, Alberta-based Winnifred Stewart Association, which provides housing and other services to people like Joey.
“Wayne’s legacy has continued to live on,” says Vicky Andress, who oversees the organization’s 12 facilities, including the one where Moss now lives with nine other adults, “allowing us to expand our services and opportunities to others like Joey.”
Money raised from Gretzky’s tournaments have purchased and furnished six homes in the Edmonton area that now provide housing for 25 developmentally disabled adults.
Over the years, Moss’s hard work [Gretzky also got him a job with the city’s pro football team] has endeared him to those living in his native Edmonton. He is sometimes tapped to sing the Canadian national anthem at local sporting events. His photo appears on city buses and on a mural on the side of a downtown building.
“He’s everywhere and I think it’s wonderful,” laughs Gretzky, whose five kids and wife are also “very close” to Moss. “The people of Edmonton have accepted Joey as an everyday person without any sort of handicap and that’s what’s really special about his story.”