London

Gerry LaHay remembered for making accessibility matter in London

Social media is abuzz with tributes to London accessibility advocate Gerry LaHay, who died early Friday following a brief illness.

The 53-year-old double-amputee, who died Friday, was a ‘fierce advocate’ for people with mobility issues

Double-amputee Gerry LaHay, an outspoken advocate for people with accessibility issues in London, died Friday at the age of 53. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Social media is abuzz with tributes to London accessibility advocate Gerry LaHay, who died early Friday following a brief illness.

He was 53.

"He was certainly a force for good, both in the community and especially on Twitter," said LaHay's friend Lincoln McCardle, who posted about his death in a tweet Friday morning. 

LaHay began speaking out about accessibility issues after he lost both of his legs due to complications with diabetes and had to rely on getting around in a wheelchair.

"Using a wheelchair is difficult," LaHay told CBC's Rebecca Zandbergen on London Morning in May, 2019 in an interview examining mobility issues.

"We need to be their eyes and ears and help them," he said, refusing to get angry to make his point with politicians.

"Instead of getting militant and angry about it, how can we fix this?," he said explaining his philosophy.

"We'll get things done if you start peeling the onion a little bit and start understanding why the way things are and build relationships with folks at City Hall. Then, you'd be surprised at what you can get done. They listen."

Advocate, writer and dad

His attitude won the admiration of many people at London City Hall who shared their condolences Friday. 

"I think it's a sad day for London whenever you lose a strong voice and influential community member who has the capacity to touch and influence a lot of people in a positive way," said Ward 7 Councillor Josh Morgan.

Ward 2 Councillor Shawn Lewis pointed to LaHay's campaign for better sidewalk clearing in the winter.

"He was thrilled that even though we couldn't get down to bare concrete, city council lowered the threshold for sidewalk clearing from eight centimetres to five centimetres, because he recognized it was a step in the right direction."

"You could disagree with Gerry, and he never tried to shame or demean you. He genuinely just asked that you took the time to listen to his point of view and shared your point of view with him. And he was happy to meet in the middle," Lewis said

LaHay was also a writer, blogging about issues he felt mattered in London. In his last post on Sept. 24, he wrote about mental health and the need to "take a moment of pause to look after ourselves."

Lewis also knew LaHay outside of the political realm.

"We talked as much about being dads, about being hockey coaches, about movies. He wanted to know you as a person, not just an elected official."

Jeff Preston, an assistant professor of disability studies at King's University College also paid tribute to LaHay.

"Last year, he came to speak to my class. Like many of us online, my students were captivated by his wisdom and energized his passion for making the world a kinder, more accepting place. What a devastating loss for London."

In the interview with Zandbergen, LaHay said he wanted to stress the need for people to be "considerate of each other, respectful off each other, whether it's an able-bodied pedestrian, whether it's a cyclist, whether it's a person in a wheelchair or with a walker. Just show a little bit more consideration before you act."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

With files from Rebecca Zandbergen

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