By: Pit Turenne
Good morning, and thank you for being here. My name is Gab-Riel, but most of you know me as Pit. I am Gerry's only son, and behind me are my wife Julie and my younger sister Andrina. Normally when I speak in public I like to open with a joke. I was thinking about what my dad's favorite joke was, but I don’t think it would be appropriate in church to tell the one about the penguin that blew a seal while driving in the desert. I can honestly tell you that this is probably going to be the most challenging 15 minutes of my life. It’s not because it is difficult for me (or anyone) to say great things about my dad, but rather because I still want to make him proud, to have him look down on me today, and to have him flash his big pearl whites. If you knew Gerry, you knew that he commanded an audience even when he wasn’t trying to do so, as is evidenced by the huge gathering here today. And the fact that his death on Monday coincided with the beginning of tourism week here in Winnipeg wasn't lost on his friends in the industry either.
Thankfully, I have not been to that many funerals for a guy my age. I am by no means an expert on how to wax poetic about a great human being, or how to encapsulate their entire lives into a 15 minute snippet. I do know however that a good eulogy will stick with you for a long time. A few years ago, I remember watching Ray Rajotte at this very podium knock his eulogy for Andre Trudeau out of the park… he even managed to sneak in a shot of caribou and have a toast for his friend at the end. That eulogy stuck with me the most because it was so very personal. It is in that style that I have tried to craft my words today.
So with that in mind I can’t talk to you with any sincerity about what my dad was like as a kid, although I hear that despite the nickname “Sunshine” he was pretty much a little punk. I can’t talk to you about what he was like when he moved out and got his first job, although I have heard he lived those years hard and fast and “Tank” was a very suitable nickname. I can’t tell you what he was like when he and his big brother Bernie, after growing up in a military family, decided they would go “off the board” and teach themselves how to be great outdoorsman… but I can tell you that they definitely succeeded, and those traditions have been passed on to my sister and I, and hopefully we can pass those traditions down to future generations. And lastly, I can’t tell you what he was like when he won a case of beer from his friend Juice simply by getting my mom to agree to go out on a date. But if you’ve ever won more in a bet than the hand of your soulmate than I want to hear about it. Many of those types of stories will be shared downstairs after the funeral. We have our open mic down there today, so our family invites you to think of your own stories about Gerry, and please share them with us then.
What I can and will tell you about my dad is that my sister and I hit the lottery when it comes to being born into a great family. He made everything around him better. Through his work as GM of the Festival Du Voyageur, he helped build Fort Gibraltar, Le Rendez-Vous and Canot, and he most notably introduced them to Caribou. That event is now an international success. When he started at Travel Manitoba and become involved in the diplomacy of the tourism industry, he helped shape policy that would grow our province’s imports. And through his work at Aikens, he turned an older looking 40-year old lodge into a world-class destination. You can see that everything Gerry became involved in now lives on bigger and better than it ever was before he influenced it.
I will focus more on my experiences than my sister’s, but the lessons he taught us both will stick with us forever. Here are some of the important lessons he taught me that I would like to share with you:
Just kidding! More than a few of us are surprised he was on time this morning! But do hear me out... One time as an 11 or 12 old, I was late for a hockey game on a Saturday morning. It was just about game time and I was still in my living room waiting for my dad to rush out to the car with me. Instead, he jumped into the shower. His defense was that he didn’t want to stink around the other parents. I ended up making it in time for the start of the 3rd period. But here's how he taught me about punctuality: I realized then that once I had my own car and my own mode of transportation, I didn’t ever want to be late like that again.
The Big Guy, as I affectionately call him, swung a big stick. He was an imposing figure, and he didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. For him, honesty was the best policy, even when what he had to say wasn't easy for him to say or for you to listen to. You had to respect that he wasn’t afraid to tell you exactly how things were. It was true in our family, and it was true for those that worked for him at Aikens. His parenting style was the perfect fit for myself. Having inherited some of his brattyness, he didn’t ever force my hand or order me around. Instead, he always offered his sage advice and would give me both sides of a situation, as well as his predicted outcomes… Afterwards, he stepped aside and let me sink-or-swim on my own. And you know what? It was frustrating that he was always right! After a few years of ignoring him and ending up in his predicted outcomes, I finally realized that maybe I should take his advice more often than not.
The Big Guy was more of a "Do as I say, not as I do" type of guy. For those that knew the Big Guy as being a great delegator, you weren't wrong. This life lesson about a strong work ethic may seem weird because he didn’t always teach me this by example – if playing solitaire at his computer was a paying job, he'd own Microsoft! But he started me off working at Aikens early… I earned $1.50 an hour sorting cans when I was 11. My first guide day was a disaster, but what else would you expect out of a 13 year old. I started logging with my high school friends at 15 years of age, and we helped get all the material for our GGO mini-lodge. I then went though the entire “Aikens Lake Boot Camp” for 5 years as a guide and a certified young punk.
He used several sayings to help shape my work ethic that stick with me even to this day. I'm sure a lot of you would agree that my old Pappy was good with sayings. Growing up, I was rarely the best hockey player on the teams I played for, so I had to earn my spot by working harder than the more talented guys. If I was in a slump, my old pappy would tell me that “the harder you work, the luckier you get”. Lo and behold a few extra strides on the ice would result in easy tap-in goals, winning a race to a puck, or getting in position to throw a big body check, the "Pit Hit" as he called it. He was a yeller at hockey games, though I never heard him on the ice.
The other saying he would use was “Good enough never is”. I say that in my head a lot when I am working today. Don’t do anything half-heartedly, if you are willing to surrender and say “good enough”, then you can expect your results to suck accordingly. So when I find myself saying that something is only “good enough”, I usually get back to work and finish the job properly.
A lot of people will agree that Gerry was a visionary. It’s a good thing that the Big Guy didn’t spend too much time learning how to play chess, because he would have been a master at it. He was always 4 moves ahead of everyone else, and he never showed his hand early. The Big Guy taught me that there are no quick fixes. He didn’t always share his plan, so working for him sometimes resulted in us using his name in vain until the entire project came together. We would see then what he had seen days, or weeks, or years before. There’s no sense doing things twice, so make your long-term plan and stick to it… even if it causes short-term headaches. He applied this dedication to long-term vision on every aspect of his life, including all his jobs, his businesses, and his family. But one of his biggest hobbies outside of that was following the Jets because he was always looking forward to what the team would look like a couple of years down the road. He was often more focused on the prospects in the system than on the guys that were actually playing for the team that year. But he was a season ticket holder since the 80's and he loved going to watch his hockey teams.
The Big Guy committed his life to enrich his community. His motivation came more from helping others than for his own personal gains. I know first hand about this through Aikens. He used the lodge as a vehicle in which to help the people around him. He focused on hiring mostly francophone staff from around Winnipeg, and soon he didn't have to do much recruiting, the employees found him instead. His annual trip donations, mostly to children-focused charities and always with a “Celebrity Ambassador” to host the trip, are a legacy we still carry on today. Those bonds are strong as we have many people in this room right now that have become close family friends only because they first met Gerry on one of those trips.
Another example of his care of others was his long-term investment in all our employees. This strong value has led to so many incredible messages in recent days from past employees. And to a fault, they all say the same thing… “Pit, your dad helped shape who I am today during those years at Aikens, and I am forever grateful.” And in order for us to receive those types of messages, my dad had to annually endure the trials and headaches that come with trying to manage an army of immature young adults – but he did it because he knew that in the end those who worked and succeeded at Aikens would be better off for it. My dad was the king of giving 2nd chances, and there are many people here today that would be on very different paths in life if not for those years working for my father and letting him guide and shape their identities. That carries on through us today, as we still invest a lot into our young students that work at Aikens. The difference is that now Julie and I get to share the lovely task of organizing these young punks every summer. Don’t worry, I can call them punks because none of them are here right now – they are all up at the lodge taking care of our guests! We put our faith in them to do so, like my father would have, and I bet this is the smoothest week of operation we've had in a long time!
Despite all the good things he would do for his community, his true love was his family. His love for my mom was one of the most inspiring things you can witness as a kid. He loved her so much that you couln’t have separated them using the jaws of life. And she loved him just the same. Often (and sometimes surprisingly!) that love always trumped all of his annoying habits, which included his weird penchant for rarely flushing a toilet. I swear he is already pranking us from above because ever since his passing, the toilets in my house only flush when he wants them to.
On top of love, he was fiercely devoted to protecting us. He would defend my mom, sister, and I to the death… if you treasured your health (both physical and mental), you didn’t ever want to get in between him and his family. He did this with force and bravery on several occastions, including once getting a car full of bikers to run away with their tails between their legs. On the mental warfare side, he once had a months-long battle with a poor clerk at a store that had not shown my mom the utmost respect when she tried to exchange a gift. Lots of letters, lots of visits, and lots of anguish for that poor guy. Not a joke.
If you teach a man to fish, he eats forever. Well Big Guy, you taught me how to fish – literally and figuratively. You can rest easy up in that big cabin in the sky and know that your future descendants will be well taken care of because of what you taught me. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I know that we will still talk, especially when I am in my hunting blinds and I'm expecting you to put a big moose or buck in front of me. I used to rely on Bernie and the Manitou to do that, but I'm glad to have an extra set of eyes in the sky for me now. Can’t wait to harvest that first animal with you this fall.
I love you Big Guy, and I will miss you.
As long as there is memory, great friends like Gerry live on in the heart. A good and gracious man and a fine friend.
I felt privileged and honoured to meet him at Aikens and share a shore lunch together... He truly was larger than life itself!
We are heartbroken to hear this news. Gerry was a great man, wise in so many ways. We were fortunate to know him as the papa bear of a large Aikens family that we became part of. We grew up at Aikens, and to this day some of our most cherished memories are from our experiences there. Gerry deeply understood how even a little time spent in nature could be unforgettable and even spiritual, and one of his greatest gifts was sharing that experience with us and many others. Our time with him was so precious.
Such a great man. We'll miss his bear hugs and great stories of the lodge. Sending you all lots of love and strength.
—Amy Cabanillas Hahn