Canadian Tire enthusiast, father, mentor, lover of instructional booklets. Born May 31, 1928, in St. John’s, died March 26, 2013, in St. John’s of heart failure, aged 84.
Though he was the youngest of seven kids and had a quiet demeanour, Gerald became the one the family relied upon for errands, chores and good advice. He gave care and consideration to everything he did.
He believed laughter was his birthright, and was always up for a good joke. He would tell tales of his childhood when he and his pals would steal scraps from the local bakery, eating till they were sick to their stomachs while rolling with laughter.
Gerald’s father, a plumber, was a strict man, but this was softened by the kindness of his mother. Gerald lived his whole life in St. John’s, working for wholesaler Steers for a few years after graduating high school, then taking a job in veterans’ affairs for the federal government, where he worked until retirement at 60.
At 20, while playing ball, Gerald met his red-headed queen, Gabe, and love prevailed for 65 years.
Although he worked a stone’s throw from the house, he drove the kids to four different schools prior to starting his work day. More times than not, the car failed to start, so he would gather the older kids to push while he manoeuvred. He’d then jump in the car and disappear from sight, and, as if by some divine intervention, reappear, racing up the hill with his grinning face behind the wheel.
Night time at the O’Reilly house was like The Waltons with everyone shouting goodnight. Sometimes, in the darkness of the children’s room, Gerald would light a cigarette and, humming softly, whirl the cigarette in all directions. We would be mesmerized following that red glow in the darkness. In those magical moments, our dad was bigger than life itself.
While Gabe tended to the day-to-day chores, Gerald never shied away from his fair share. Each school year, he would cut hundreds of squares of brown paper to make book jackets and help with the seemingly endless amounts of homework.
He always joked about one day being on “Easy Street.” His children often asked where Easy Street was, and when they could move there. Upon Gerald’s retirement, his daughter Meri posted an “Easy Street” sign on his front door. Finally, he had arrived. He took art lessons, travelled, went sailing with his son Mike, played 45s every Friday night, and along the way enjoyed a good laugh.
He was a man of few words, but the words he spoke would often imprint on your soul. It was only after his passing that his family learned of his ongoing support for various charitable foundations. This should not surprise anyone, as Gerald would often say, “Only a good deed done in secrecy will be rewarded.”
He could stare endlessly at the painting of craggy rocks and water that hung on the wall above the sofa in his home. Like his mother, he loved the written word and would read and reread the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken, wondering if it was possible to go back and take another path, but knowing ultimately that the path he did travel could not be replaced by one more special.
As his niece sang at his funeral, Gerald really was the “wind beneath our wings.”
Gabriella O’Reilly is Gerald’s daughter.