February 2012‎ > ‎

6 - An Event to Remember

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 change.

     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 CPJ’s charism.

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.