On January 1st 2011, my dearly beloved brother Gerry slipped quietly and peacefully into the presence of the Lord, after a long battle with cancer, during which he suffered greatly but did not complain. He was an inspiration to all of us who knew and loved him. The following is my tribute to a man I am proud and honoured to have been his younger brother.
Gerry was born in Kings College Hospital, Camberwell, in south east London, England on 4 May 1927. He was the first born child of Walter John and Lilian Elizabeth Gouldthorpe. Later, I was born; Gerry’s younger brother by seven years and eight months. We were the only two children of our parents.
There is an old saying that goes like this – God gives us our relatives; thank God we can choose our friends. The sentiment enshrined in this cynical statement has never, ever had any place in my thinking or in the way I have regarded my relatives. I love them all dearly and thank God that he gave them to me. It is particularly true of my brother. I told him as he lay dying that I would not have wanted anyone else in the world to have been my brother.
My earliest recollection of Gerry dates from when I was three or four years old. He was ten or eleven at the time. Our parents had a retail furniture store which kept them both busy. Gerry found himself being my care giver for more time than was fair for a child of his age. Our mother told me that Gerry was a good child who was very obedient and gave his parents little or no trouble. The same could not be said for their second son and Gerry found himself in charge of a little tyke who was constantly getting into trouble of one sort or another. He did this mostly without complaint but there was a day when he returned from a children’s playground at a local park where he took me on a regular basis. He informed mother that the lady supervisor at the children’s playground had told him that he was not to take me there again. He pleaded with our mother to be relieved of his baby brother sitting duties but that did not happen.
Gerry was certainly a very intelligent person with a sharp mind that he used well and never wasted. At age 11 he took, what was known in England as the 11 plus exam and passed with flying colours. He was rewarded with a place at Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School, a school for boys with above average academic potential.
World War 2 began in September 1939 and heralded major changes for us as a family, as it did for many families. Gerry was 12 years old and in his first year at Tenison’s. I was 4 years old and in kindergarten at the local Infants School. Along with thousands of other London children we were evacuated to parts of England considered safer than London. We went with our schools – Gerry to Berkshire and I to Devon. During the next six years we saw each other only once when he came for a short visit to my foster home in Devon. We thus missed six important childhood years together. In fact, it was more than six years as by the time I returned to London in 1945, Gerry was already working as a “Bevin Boy” in the coal mines of South Wales. It was there that he met and fell in love with Doris, his future wife. He did not return to London until late 1948 or early 1949.
It was not the easiest thing for us to pick up the threads of our sibling relationship. Gerry embarked on studies that laid the foundation for his future career. Then in 1950 he and Doris were married and set up their own home. However, we were able to close the gap of the lost war years and established a good relationship. At the same time it is true to say the last 30 years have, without a doubt, been the most special years. Since 1981 when Gerry and Doris, plus Jane and Bethan, two of their children came to live in Abbotsford, he and I forged and cherished a close, loving relationship as brothers.
I am indebted to him for many things. Let me start with the example he set for me, thus establishing himself as a true mentor for his younger brother.
His work ethic got my attention. During his studies and his working life, he was fully committed to his responsibilities. During 30 years with Scholl’s Foot Comfort Service and Manufacturing he rose to be Head of the company’s Training School and later became International Sales Director. Mother told me that he had always been very conscientious and hard working, even as a small child. I remember that when I completed my three years of service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and began my studies to prepare me for the Christian ministry, I recalled how hard and consistently Gerry had worked as a student. He had taken away all excuses from me to do otherwise.
I am grateful to him for being a means of strengthening my own faith and walk with the Lord Jesus. I was 15 years of age when I became a committed Christian. I had become accustomed to the fact that my brother was always looking out for me, doing his best to help me make right choices and avoid wrong ones. He was not a Christian at that time and did not believe that I had made the right decision. He made sure we had discussions on a regular basis in which I had to defend my beliefs while he challenged them. He made sure that these discussions were always constructive and never acrimonious. I can say, as an aside at this point, that Gerry and I never in our lives had what could be called “a flaming row.” I have already mentioned that Gerry had a sharp mind. For me those discussions were not exactly comfortable as I could not win any points, at least in my way of thinking. However the whole process drove me to study the scriptures, gain understanding of the hope that was within me and seek advice from older, more mature Christians. A Christian friend of mine, who also had members in his family who did not yet know the Lord, and I decided that we would meet together first thing every morning before we started our day to pray for the conversion to Christ of our families. Regarding our discussions Gerry told me in later years that even though he seemed to be winning the individual “battles” of argument that we had, I was the one who was winning “the war.” He saw a change in my life and noted that I was not shaken by the opposition. He began asking his own questions.
During my RAF service I kept in regular touch with Gerry and Doris. On one occasion I received a letter from Gerry telling me that Doris had become a Christian, using my “language” and telling me that she had received Christ as her Saviour. He said he did not have a problem with this and was happy for her. This news filled me with joy and definitely strengthened my faith.
Gerry and Doris have always treated me with great kindness. Not only me; while I was in the RAF our stepmother passed away and without hesitation they moved out of their own home into the family apartment to look after Dad. When my RAF days were over they welcomed me to stay with them too. By this time they also had two babies in the persons of Wendy and Christopher (in subsequent years they had two more daughters – Jane and Bethan). I was with them for eight months before finding my own accommodation. During those months Gerry and I had more discussions but now they were changing in tone and content. His honest heart and keen mind were now seeking spiritual truth. During this time also I met Grace and our courtship quickly became a serious one. We thought that Gerry would appreciate the preaching of a Welsh preacher in London named Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and we offered to baby-sit the children so that they could go to Westminster Chapel one Sunday evening to hear him preach. The offer was taken up. When they arrived home Gerry was pensive. Doris said she had liked Dr. Lloyd Jones very much. I asked Gerry what he thought. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Every argument I have ever had against the Christian faith has been demolished this evening.”
A short time later he went on a business trip and borrowed my copy of C.S.Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity.” Lewis’s apologetically reasoned approach was the perfect match for my brother’s honest intellect and hungry heart. He reached the point in the book where Lewis argues that there is no middle of the road position with Christ, we must either accept him for who and what he claimed to be or dismiss him as a liar and lunatic. Gerry accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour and never looked back. He and Doris have been constant supporters and encouragers of Grace and myself in the ministries and adventures that we have found ourselves in.
I must mention the impeccable integrity that was always a mark of Gerry’s life. Throughout his career he conducted his business with scrupulous honesty. After his move to Canada he worked as a Life Underwriter with London Life Insurance. The insurance industry unfortunately has a stained reputation brought upon it by some individuals who did not serve their clients well but sought only to reap the highest commissions. Gerry would have none of that. Some years ago I was in Sevenoaks Shopping Mall in Abbotsford when a man, whom I did not recognize, came up to me, shook hands and said, “Hi Mr. Gouldthorpe, how are you?” Knowing that Gerry and I have been mistaken for each other many times I suspected that he thought I was my brother. It proved to be so and when he knew that he said to me, “Let me tell you something, your brother was our insurance agent and he is the most honest man I have ever met in my life.” Doris will agree with me when I say that when a bill arrived in the mail it was, with rare exceptions, paid on the same day.
Gerry could ably defend the faith. At high school (Archbishop Tenison’s) he was a member of a group of friends, all of whom were intellectuals with high ideals and interests. Shortly after his commitment to Christ he wrote a well reasoned letter that he sent to them all explaining the Gospel and why he had become a Christian.
He has been a loving husband, a great dad and granddad (to six grandchildren). Like C.S. Lewis he could grasp lofty, intellectual propositions. C.S. Lewis also knew the language of a child and wrote the famous Chronicles of Narnia. Gerry also produced some delightful, illustrated story books for his grandchildren.
His going has left a large, empty space in many lives, mine included. But this is only an “au revoir,” a “bye for now,” a “see you later.” I have thought about what he is doing. He has seen Jesus face to face – what more can one add? Humorously I have wondered whether he has met an old friend from Westminster Chapel who has told him, “You know that Dr. Lloyd-Jones did not finish Romans at the Friday evening Bible Study? Well he is finishing it here – but it is still, in earthly terminology, going to take him a long time.”
I know he is wearing the crown of righteousness that was awaiting him. I know that he is enjoying marvellous fellowship with the Saviour and the saints of God who have gone before. I know that he has heard the words spoken by the Lord Jesus to him, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”
My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord that he permitted me to be Gerry’s brother.