SYROTUIK email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-07-04 published
By Jerry SYROTUIK, Monday, July 4, 2005, Page A14
Newfoundlander, nurse, mother, artist. Born November 16, 1921, in Saint John's, Newfoundland. Died March 26 in St. Catharines, Ontario, of Alzheimer's disease, aged 83.
Gertrude was born Gertrude GALWAY during a time in Newfoundland history when things were very different than they are today. She was one of nine children, with seven sisters and one brother. The best way to describe the Galway family came from NoŽl GOODRIDGE, who aptly stated: "When the Galway girls speak -- everybody listens."
Gertrude graduated from nursing at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in Saint John's. Shortly thereafter she met her husband John in Saint John's, where he was stationed during the Second World War. They moved to Thorold, Ontario, (John's hometown) in 1945 and were married in November of that year. There they raised a family of six children. Being a proud Newfoundlander transplanted to the Niagara Peninsula was not an easy adjustment. You need to remember this was before Newfoundland was considered cool and they still called it the Rock.
From getting used to people's attitudes to coping with the hot, humid summer weather, she slowly acclimatized -- but at her core she was always a Newfoundlander. Her anxiety about flying significantly limited the number of trips she would have liked to make back to Saint John's.
As a result of her nursing training, Gertrude was not intimidated by physicians. Her at-times fierce personality would sometimes collide with a physician's health-care advice for one of her children. When she came within spitting distance, she would remind the doctor that she was a registered nurse.
Gertrude would have to be described as a large RC Roman Catholic. With "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" rolling off her tongue she frequently attended mass on a daily basis and you soon learned you could not win any theological debate with her. Unfortunately her children's behaviour was not always in line with church doctrine but everyone got through it. One of the best pieces of everyday advice she ever gave still rings true: There is never any excuse for being rude.
By far, her greatest gift was her art. When painting she would tilt her head slightly, close one eye and see things only she could see, then magically transpose them onto the canvas. She would just know that a painting was finished or whether she still needed to do something with it. At other times, in frustration, she would whitewash a half-completed work and start over.
A theme that often recurred in her paintings was motion, expressed in varying abstract forms. Even some of her still-life paintings seemed to resonate. She trained with several respected artists and became accomplished. This resulted in her earning numerous awards over the years and enjoying showings of her work in Ontario, New York state and Saint John's. She also had a keen interest in children's art as her own children were growing up.
With being a nurse, mother and accomplished artist she was still not done. She enrolled in university and began to further refine her artistic abilities. She graduated from Brock University with a degree in fine arts in 1985 at the age of 63. She continued to be a prolific artist into her 70s.
Near the end of her life, her memory and speech began to falter, a great devastation for a Newfoundlander. Alzheimer's disease set in and she suffered a broken hip; she spent the last 3½ years of her life in a nursing home. She was given last rites on Good Friday which seemed fitting given her religious fervour. When she took her last breath my wife Jane, my daughter Elizabeth and I were with her. It was finished.
Jerry SYROTUIK is Gertrude's son.
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