By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Despite his obvious attachment to a tweed newsboy cap, I shall remember Gerry Berkhout as a man of many hats.
Mr. Berkhout, who died in his sleep New Year’s evening, aged 82, was: a humanitarian, community activist, proud family man, Fonthill Lions Club member, Fonthill Legion member, beacon, navy vet, animated storyteller, gadabout, sports fan, foodie, former politician, retired realtor, environmentalist, and more.
He wore each with dignity, grace, honor and distinction.
When he visited in the Tribune’s newsroom – and there were many, many visits over the years – he greeted me with a trademark salutation: “Heyyyy Jozef.”
I liked that.
I still can hear his voice.
He came, most often, to pitch story ideas. He didn’t come to pitch about himself, but to be a beacon, to shine a light on others. That was what he did. That was the essence of what it meant to be Gerry Berkhout.
I got to know, and write about, Henry “Hank” Sams’ amazing military experiences thanks to Mr. Berkhout, and those of Jim Summersides too. I got to know, and write about, Country Corner Market owner Rick Lowes who, at the time, was trying to cope with the loss of his wife to cancer and was raising funds for a cure on her behalf.
I’m thankful for all that.
I shan’t forget the look on his face the sun-splashed autumn day we visited the recreational space that soon would bear his name: the Gerry Berkhout Trail.
It runs along the former TH&B railway line with entry points at Murdoch Street and Centennial Park. Mr. Berkhout walked it for years, recognized its potential and advocated for it. His words found receptive ears and the trail was officially dedicated Nov. 3.
And, oh yes, the expression on his face. It was akin to a little kid’s Christmas morning look of sheer bliss.
Mr. Berkhout enjoyed a bowl (or two) of borscht at King Street’s Blue Star Restaurant for lunch every now and then.
Over those get-togethers, he waxed eloquent about Welland’s cosmopolitan background and ethnic heritage. He offered wise counsel: eat those homemade Croatian cabbage rolls whenever you can, they might not be around too long.
He enlightened me about some of the finer points of Dutch culture: “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much”; “If you’re not worth a penny, you’ll never be worth a nickel”; and the classic, my fave: “Three characteristics of Dutchmen: wooden shoes, wooden heads, wouldn’ listen.”
I still like that.
The last time we were out was for the Welland Sports and Benevolent Association’s annual elimination draw and dinner in November. We were at his table with son-in-law Dave Augustyn and a group of Mr. Berkhout’s long-time friends.
I didn’t expect it, and maybe I should have: Mr. Berkhout wore his beacon hat that evening.
“Heyyyyy Jozef, you see that fellow over there,” he said, gesturing at one of his buds at the table. “Maybe you should do a story on him. He’s extraordinary. I’ll tell you more about it later.”
Won’t happen now.
My beacon is out.
Mr. Berkhout is at the James L. Pedlar Funeral Home Ltd., Dixon Chapel, 1292 Pelham Street, Fonthill. Death notice and funeral information is on the website: pedlarfuneralhome.ca
(Lasting Image is a recurring feature on the blog. Some others in the series: Ivan Zecchini: His Countenance Glowed From Wide-Eyed Appreciation, July 18, 2018; Steve Krar: Neighbourhood Nostalgia Buff, Visionary Leader, July 11, 2018; Mother Alba Puglia: Tireless Trailblazer, June 18, 2018; Don Murray: A Small Part of Local History, June 6, 2018; Martin Walsh: One Of Our Finest, March 2, 2018; Michael Santone: A Barber of King Street, January 23, 2018; Ed Tymkow: Minister of Hospitality, April 6, 2017; Jimmy Roberto: September 11, 2015; Bob Fralick: May 7, 2014; Frank Addario: February 24, 2014.)