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Londoners mourn sudden passing of accessibility advocate Gerry LaHay

LaHay as seen in a photo in August 2019.
LaHay as seen in a photo in August 2019. via Gerry LaHay/Facebook

In a testament to the mark he left on the community, politicians, friends, and local activists are sharing their grief over the passing of Londoner Gerry LaHay, whose death following a brief battle with a sudden illness was announced Friday morning.

LaHay was well-known for his work to improve accessibility in the city and was extremely open and honest about his own struggles and personal experiences as he worked to connect with others and affect positive change.

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“Gerry exceeded my expectations on what a resident can give their community through his kind and firm accessibility advocacy,” wrote Councillor Elizabeth Peloza.

“Gerry was a constant source of wit, wisdom, and never hesitated to raise his voice against injustice,” wrote MPP Terence Kernaghan.

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Jeff Preston, advocate, motivational speaker, and assistant professor of disability studies at King’s University College at Western University called the loss “devastating,” tweeting that LaHay came to speak to his students last year.

“Like many of us online, my students were captivated by his wisdom and energized by his passion for making the world a kinder, more accepting place.”

Read more: Accessibility advocate invites Londoners to ‘roll a mile in my wheels’

Megan Walker of the London Abused Women’s Centre noted that “Gerry overcame many obstacles and used his life experiences to advocate for change.”

“I was blessed to have received Gerry’s support,” she wrote. “During tough times, he was the first person to reach out to see how I was. I will miss him.”

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Coun. Arielle Kayabaga, whose ward LaHay lived in, released a statement, saying “there aren’t enough words” to honour him.

“He went through his own share of trials with his health but in the midst of that he would remain a constant pillar to not only me, but to many of you in London,” she said.

“Gerry had a big heart and I will forever be grateful that our paths crossed.”

LaHay’s impact in the community was evident in the quick response to a GoFundMe set up by Dad Club London president Jeremy McCall.

In less than three hours, the fundraiser already surpassed its goal of $2,500 for LaHay’s two children, Phil and Sarah, as well as the Amputee Rehabilitation Program at St Joseph’s Health Care. As of 2:30 p.m. Friday, $3,541 had already been raised.

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In the GoFundMe, McCall described LaHay as “a dad, a friend, an advocate, and a wonderfully kind and funny human being.” He wrote that LaHay had a long and successful career in food services before leaving that work due to health issues.

“He struggled in the later years of his life, losing both legs to diabetic infection, and also surviving a suicide attempt,” McCall wrote.

“Gerry took an experience that would have shattered many, and built it into impact and positivity. He spoke truth to power in terms of our society’s need to be kind to each other, and to support those who are living with both obvious disabilities and invisible struggles. He empowered his pain and struggle into hope and encouragement for others.”

LaHay’s friendliness and open nature allowed him to connect with others and encourage empathy and understanding. In July 2019, while using a wheelchair as he waited for prosthetics, LaHay let Londoners “roll a mile in his wheels,” to allow them to experience the difficulty of navigating on sidewalks in need of repair.

LaHay was fondly remembered for his sense of humour and love of raisins. Some grieving Londoners even posted about eating raisins for breakfast or grabbing a buttertart, with raisins of course, to honour LaHay.

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He was also an avid writer, authoring multiple self-published books and frequently posting on his blog, The Pantsless Rambler.

“Despite living on ODSP, Gerry showed us all that it took was an internet connection, a kind heart, and the confidence and humility to share and be vulnerable in order to impact real and measurable change,” McCall wrote.

Most recently, as a member of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, LaHay contributed to the city’s Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (CDIS) and spoke to councillors alongside CDIS chair, priority 3, Shobhita Sharma, on Sept. 22.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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