Gerald Vandezande (77) passed away peacefully in his armchair at home in
Scarboro, ON early on the morning of Saturday, July 16, 2011. Gerald was
one of the founders of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) in 1963, and
continued to be an active member and supporter all the days of his life.
He worked as CPJ’s Executive Director until 1988 and then National
Public Affairs Director of CPJ for a decade thereafter. Although not
blessed with the opportunity of higher education in the formal sense,
Gerald received an Honourary Doctor of Letters from ICS, and then in
2001, was awarded the Order of Canada.
Born on a snowy Christmas Day in 1933, in Ymuiden, the Netherlands, Gerald
Vandezande lived his life reading and sharing the Gospel with others.
Gerry, as he liked to be known, believed that Christians must integrate
the teachings of the Bible into all aspects of life. He became Canada’s
most renowned proponent of public justice – a true force for social
At a wonderful memorial evening in February, 130 friends gathered at
the First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto. Organized jointly by CPJ
and ICS, with many of Gerry’s friends assisting, the event was titled, “Hungering for a New Politics: The Life’s Work of Gerald Vandezande.”
Nobody who knew Gerry would envision him sitting tight while friends
sang his praises (or for that matter, fixated on his foibles!) A
highlight of the evening featured the premiere showing of a DVD of Gerry
himself, speaking his own heartfelt beliefs. In another film, Prof. Bob
Goudzwaard reflected on Gerry’s contributions, and all who attended
were touched by the gracious presence of Wynne, Gerald’s dear wife. A
daughter (Karen) and grandson (Jason) movingly spoke from the Vandezande
family’s memory bank, with Karen noting how she didn’t always agree
with her Dad’s causes – as a lover of malls, she wasn’t always sure
that Sunday shopping was so bad!
John Olthuis, who co-founded CPJ with Gerry back in 1963, remembered
how they worked to defend the rights of the Dene people of the NWT .
These Aboriginal peoples challenged the Mackenzie Valley pipeline – and
won! In a fetching turn of phrase, John remarked how “Gerry was Prime
Minister of the Justice Party – and played the role of Minister in every
portfolio of government.”
The Rev. Susan Eagle quipped that Gerry, an “activist theologian,” was
more often at Queen’s Park than any elected MPP!” And the Honourable
John McKay, MP for Scarborough-Guildwood, complained that he never knew
whether his friend Gerry would have actually voted for him! McKay quoted
from a letter from current Liberal Leader, Bob Rae, which referred to
Gerry as a “crystal spirit” in the words of a George Orwell poem.
The following day featured panel presentations and workshops on issues
that Gerry was passionate about: family and child poverty, government
advocacy, welcoming the neighbour among us, and preserving environmental
integrity. Javed Akbar noted Gerry’s commitment to interfaith action.
John Hiemstra’s masterful presentation captured how Gerald’s deep
immersion in the reformational philosophical and theological tradition
stood him in good stead as a basis for his public life, and the roots of
As we learned from the title of one of Gerry’s books, justice is not about
“just us.” We’ll miss the man, who was mentor, voice of conscience, and
faith-filled friend to so many proponents of a more just future.
Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical organization that promotes justice, peace and the integrity of creation.