“We were all fortunate and better off for knowing her”
Lisa Helsdon recalls her mother with great fondness, love and wistfulness. There are both tears and laughter when she speaks about the woman who she describes as generous, fun loving and a great humanitarian as well as a beloved mother and grandmother.
Gerry Wilson passed away peacefully in the fall of 2021 and leaves behind an enduring legacy of love and care for her family and her community. She will be dearly missed.
Gerry met her future husband, Larry Wilson, in her hometown of Peterborough, Ontario.
“They met on a blind date,” Lisa explained. “I’ve heard different versions but I believe it was my dad’s sister who set them up on a blind date in Peterborough and they went to a dance.”
It wasn’t long after that Gerry and Larry were engaged and then married in 1962, before settling in Oakville by way of Scarborough and Montreal. Gerry was a proud Halton resident for more than 40 years, living in both Oakville and, in her later years, in Burlington.
She was a lifelong member of her sorority, Beta Sigma Phi, which she joined as a young woman in Peterborough. As Gerry and Larry moved, she would find and join the local chapter, taking part in various executive positions and hosting a number of social and charity events.
“Mom always kept in touch with her friends, even after relocating to a different city, and they supported each other through all of the good times and the more challenging times in life,” said Lisa.
Gerry loved travelling to new places where she could learn about different cultures and participated in many different sports, even when she wasn’t supposed to. She was like that, Lisa said, always up for an adventure.
Growing up, Lisa witnessed the role of philanthropy in the lives of both of her parents, calling it a core element and value of their family. Both Gerry and Larry were very involved in their community as well as with the Anglican church.
Larry was one of the founders of the Oakville Community Foundation back in 1994 and served as a director from its inception. In 1994, they were among one of the first couples to set up their own Fund: the Larry & Gerry Wilson Family Fund and, after Larry’s passing in 2000, Gerry began exploring philanthropy even deeper.
Always one to cheer on and support the underdog, Gerry focused her efforts on helping those at a disadvantage and poured her time, talent and treasure back into the community that she loved.
“We very much had a shared interest in philanthropy,” Lisa said. “The Fund at The Foundation was a wonderful means of supporting many of Oakville’s charitable organizations.”
Together, they most notably supported Kerr Street Mission, Home Suite Hope, The Salvation Army Lighthouse Emergency Shelter and several Oakville Community Foundation Initiatives, including the 2018 Vital Youth Report.
Gerry loved being a grandmother. With two grandsons and a granddaughter, she attended every concert, dance recital, game and graduation that she could, always insistent that she could hear her grandson Matthew playing the tuba in the band, even when he wasn’t.
“The way she loved her grandchildren was just… like the sun rose and set on her three grandkids,” Lisa said. “She was just so involved and nothing could light her up like her grandchildren. She was a great grandma.”
The family would get together to celebrate birthdays and holidays at Gerry’s house, and so often found themselves gathering there for no reason at all. Gerry loved being surrounded by her family
Lisa recalled how, for Gerry’s 70th birthday, they arranged a surprise party for her at the cottage. All of the guests were standing on the balcony as they arrived back from church, a big “Happy 70th Birthday!” sign strung through the rails.
“She was like a little kid, completely surprised and filled with delight,” Lisa said. “With emotion in her voice, she told me that no one had ever thrown her a surprise party. That was a moment I’ll never forget.”
In addition to these moments of joy, Gerry leaves behind memories of warmth and welcome, of being a genuine, kind and loving person and of being a friendly face to those around her. When asked what always comes to mind now when she thinks of her mother, Lisa had one clear answer.
“She had a very beautiful smile,” Lisa said. “She had a really beautiful smile.”