Gerry Lougheed Sr. is being remembered as generous family man who had a huge impact on his community, but preferred to do much of his good work away from the limelight.
Lougheed, 83, passed away at home Dec. 16 with his family at his side. Along with his wife, Marguerite, who passed away in 2006, he founded Lougheed’s Funeral Home and Flower Shop in 1952.
Lougheed also started Sudbury’s first ambulance service around the same time. His ambulances were the first in Ontario to have oxygen, and he required ambulance staff to have medical training, almost unheard of at the time.
He was active in the local Rotary Club, which honoured his service on multiple occasions, and pioneered support for the city’s disabled through Easter Seals.
His sons, Gerry Jr. and Geoffrey, are well known in Sudbury for their charitable work. Gerry Jr. said they learned their work ethic and values from their father.
“I think he raised Geoffrey and I to have a backbone and to never quit,” Gerry Jr., said Dec. 18. “It’s very sad. Dad was a tremendous father and mentor and best friend. So that part of it is very difficult. When you love somebody, you don’t want to let them go.”
While his health had been failing in recent years, Gerry Jr. said his father took a turn for the worse last month as the family was celebrating 60 years in business.
“On the day of our 60th anniversary, he had a major stroke,” Gerry Jr. said. “So these last few weeks have been very difficult for him. He was unable to communicate, or swallow. And his last few days were enormously difficult for him.
“So death was a friend. We are people of faith, so we very much believe that dad is with mom, and that is what he would want and what she would want.”
The son of farmers who grew tomatoes and cucumbers for Heinz Inc., Gerry Sr. grew up on his parents’ 50-acre farm in the southern Ontario community of Staples. That’s where he learned the values the Lougheeds would be known for in Sudbury, said Gerry Jr.
“It’s all genetic,” he said. “Bills were always paid immediately. You never bought anything on credit. Being Irish, they believed you should never go into a New Year owing anything to anybody. And dad was raised in that environment.
“As a boy, he was paid $5 a day to cut weeds in the county ditches. And he did it with great pride that he was able to provide his own income, even as a child.”
His parents were together since both were teenagers, having been raised eight farms apart, and were living in Windsor after they were married. At 22, Gerry Sr. was a young funeral director when Marguerite’s great uncle – also a funeral director -- paid them a visit.
“He had been fishing in Northern Ontario and announced, at the lunch, that he had come to a place called Sudbury and it looked like a good place to open a funeral home,” Gerry Jr. said. “If you really want to know about entrepreneurial spirit, in 1952, he literally got in a car and they drove up.”
They stayed in a bed and breakfast – called tourist homes in those days – and rented a former meat market at the corner of Eyre and Spruce streets, opening a flower shop.
“They had $3,000 in life savings, $1,700 borrowed from relatives, a Buick car and that was their beginning.”
In those early days, Gerry Sr. would use the boxes intended for the flowers and fashion them into room dividers for their apartment. Gerry Jr. remembers a close-knit family.
“Geoff and dad and I had a great, great relationship and a tremendous sense of togetherness,” he said. “Dad and mom always made sure Geoffrey and I were included in everything.”
While he had high expectations for his sons, Gerry Jr. said he was more concerned about keeping your word and giving your best, in whatever you did.
“It was a house of expectations,” he said. “There was an expectation that if you agreed to do something, you’d follow through. Whether you succeeded or failed, that wasn’t the issue.”
He remembers when he was eight years old, he somehow ended up playing the flute in the school band, not exactly cool, even in 1963.
"The flute playing was not a real popular activity on the playground at recess — I was constantly getting pounded out because I was a flute player in the band,” Gerry Jr. said. “I conceived of the idea that playing the flute gave me headaches.”
So he went to his father and gave him the news: he was quitting the flute because it was making him sick. And Gerry Sr. asked him point blank whether the headache story was really true.
“I said no, I just didn’t want to play the flute anymore. And, at eight years old, he said to me, ‘I never thought we would have a quitter in the family.’
“I’m telling you this story 50 years later, and I can tell you, anything I ever endeavour, I always ensure I make my best efforts and I’m not a quitter.”
Sudburians reflect on the Lougheed legacy
Greg Clausen remembers meeting Gerry Sr. in the 1970s when he joined the Rotary Club. Clausen said it was the way he was able to connect with people that made Gerry Sr. so unique.
“He was very, very caring of people,” Clausen said. “He took time to get to know you as an individual. He took the time to get to know your spouse, your kids. He made sure that you felt welcome, that you felt part of the club and part of the community.”
While he knows of Gerry Sr.’s many acts of personal kindness, he wants to keep the details private, the way Lougheed wanted it. He never liked attention, Clausen said, and preferred to do as much as he could as quietly as he could.
“He was very quiet, very inconspicuous, very unassuming. But he knew how to take care of people.”
He would help strangers, friends, fellow Rotarians, he helped build schools in India and raised money for disabled kids in Sudbury long before such fundraising efforts were common.
“He sponsored many, many underprivileged children, in sports and in education,” Clausen said. “He sponsored many Rotarians over the years who were having a hard time financially. I know he picked up many tabs, anonymously, on behalf of the club.
“I can’t think of a better man to have met in my entire life.”
He would take ribbing from fellow Rotarians, Clausen said, who used to tease him about the fact he owned both the funeral home and the ambulance service.
“We in the club used to jokingly say to Gerry that how fast he drove the ambulance all depended on how much he liked you,” Clausen said. “But that he was going to get you either way.
“He would just smile, and never said a word. He had a great sense of humour. His wife was an angel, and he worshipped the ground that she walked on.”
Dr. Rayudu Koka, who runs mental-health programs at Health Sciences North, said Gerry Sr. and Marguerite “were like family” to him.
“It’s a significant loss to me personally,” Koka said. “I used to go visit him regularly, even when he was sick these last six years. I would take him things he liked to eat and feed him.
“I had such a great respect for him. I can’t describe it in words.”
What struck Koka was the fact that, despite his success in business, Gerry Sr. lived modestly and humbly.
“They could have lived in a mansion, but they stayed in the same house for almost 60 years,” Koka said. “They were kind and giving. And he was always a supporter of the Multicultural Association.”
Family friend Bob Fontaine met Gerry Sr. in the early 1970s, through his participation in the Rotary Club. What struck Fontaine most was his selfless dedication to other people.
“Gerry was a gem,” he said. “I think if you were looking for one word to describe Gerry it would have to be ‘others.’ He was a very, very thoughtful person who was always trying to make things better for everybody.”
He also said Gerry Sr. was responsible for several acts of kindness that most people don’t know about. He would reach out to people in need and bring them home – literally.
“At Christmastime, both he and Marguerite would find people who didn’t have anyone to share Christmas with and he made sure he brought them over for Christmas dinner,” Fontaine said.
“I’m sure Gerry Jr. and Geoffrey could tell you that, even though they’re a family of four, there were always at least a dozen people sitting at the dinner table.
“Gerry would never blow his own horn. He didn’t want people to know what he was doing. He wasn’t in it for the publicity. He just wanted to do good. That’s how he was.”
He was equally impressive at his job, Fontaine said, and was an innovator in his industry.
“In his profession, he came up with a whole bunch of new standards for funeral directors that are now being employed throughout North America,” he said.
“We’re going to miss him. Not everyone can be takers -- some of us have to be givers. And the Lougheeds are givers for sure. And thank God his two sons are the same type and they will carry on.”
Those innovations include serving coffee to people at the funeral home, an idea that came from Bill Kaillo, who was reeve of Waters Township in the 1950s. Kaillo told Gerry Sr. he would connect better with the Finnish community if he served them coffee.
“One of the wedding gifts was a silver set from my grandma and they brought it down and used the cup and saucers to serve coffee,” Gerry Jr. said. “It was considered innovative, because no other funeral home in North America was serving coffee at the time.”
And while they were happy for the coffee, Kallio told Gerry Jr. people were complaining it was the worst coffee they had ever tasted.
“My father, showing his ability to take suggestions, said, ‘Can you teach me how to make coffee?’ And to this day, in our employee manual you can still find Bill Kallio’ mother’s recipe for making coffee with a couple of eggs and a pinch of salt.”
As he looks back on his father’s life, Gerry Jr. said his father was proud of what he had built for his family in Sudbury, and was grateful for Sudburians for what they had given him.
“Dad believed that anyone could make a difference, and everyone should make a difference,” he said. “Giving back to the community was always one of his commandments. Sudbury has been very good to the Lougheeds, so therefore the Lougheeds had to make sure that they cared and shared with Sudbury on a daily basis, which is what we try to do.”