On Dec. 16, Patricia Marie Gerretsen (nee Doherty) passed away at the age of 69, leaving a legacy of pro-life involvement that went back decades and only increased after she suffered a debilitating anuerysm and stroke.
Known as Pat to her pro-life friends but Patricia to her family, Gerretsen and her late husband Peter were involved in the pro-life cause since the early 1980s. The two owned a production company, Gerretsen Film Productions, which produced pro-life feature films, documentaries and commercials, including Two is a Crowd, The Slippery Slope, The Kidnapping of Baby Doe and Night Friend. He wrote scripts and directed the films while Pat was the company administrator and she assisted Peter in the editing process. They moved the firm to their home to save costs and so Pat could be close to her young children, Phillip, Becky and Mary.
The most commercially successful of these enterprises was the 1988 film, The Kidnapping of Baby John Doe, which was written, directed and produced by the Gerretsens, and inspired by the true story of Baby John Doe of Bloomington, Indiana. The story, The Interim said in its review at the time, “exposes the empty rhetoric of those who argue that ‘quality of life’ is an acceptable excuse to starve to death newborn babies with Down’s Syndrome.” It starred Jayne Eastwood as the nurse who kidnapped a child with Down’s Syndrome when his family refused a minor corrective surgery to make feeding easier. The nurse arranged for the surgery and faced legal action afterward.
Gerretsen Film Productions also produced the 1983 Campaign Life Coalition commercials featuring Dr. Bernard Nathanson and political commercials in 1984. The Gerretsens donated their time, charging only for actual production-related costs. They produced documentaries for CLC, Birthright, and Toronto Right to Life.
CLC national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that the Gerretsens were a “tremendous couple” and their “moral and financial support was indispensible.” Hughes recalls a day in the 1980s when Peter came into the CLC offices on Dundas Street in Toronto before heading to work, to talk and drop off a donation. Later that same day, Pat stopped at the offices to chat and before leaving, she pulled out her cheque book. “I told her that Peter had already given a donation earlier that day. She smiled and wrote out her own in the name of Patricia Doherty.”
In 1989, Pat had neurosurgery for a ruptured aneurysm in February and later suffered a stroke in May following a second operation. She lost the ability to speak and her right side was paralyzed. She underwent a long, five-month therapy with the support of her husband who visited her at St. Michael’s Hospital daily. She eventually spoke again and regained partial use of her right arm and leg, but she never fully recovered.
Grace Petrasek, in her book Silhouettes Against the Snow: Profiles of Canadian Defenders of Life, said, “(Pat was) a deeply religious woman… believes ‘suffering is a gift’,” and that she was “undaunted by little setbacks.” Gerretsen told Petrasek about her ordeal, “It has given me a deeper faith and appreciation of life and love.” Petrasek said that Gerretsen’s struggle “is an inspiration” to all those “whose right sides work all right.”
Deny Dieleman, office manager for Campaign Life Coalition’s Toronto office, told The Interim that Gerretsen volunteered for the past 15 years, coming in once a week. “She didn’t miss much time (volunteering) except when she was in the hospital.” Dieleman noted that when some employees would call to say that they would not be in the office because of inclement weather, Pat would still come in by Wheel Trans and, with the help of someone from the office, make it up to the third floor. Dieleman remembers one time Pat was being transported in the ambulance and arranged for the driver to call the CLC office to inform them that she would not be in that day.
Despite limited use of her right hand, a drag on her leg and mild difficulty talking – although that never stopped her from talking — Pat stuffed envelopes and answered telephones at CLC and in the past year learned (again) to type on the computer so she could input old archives of The Interim and the CLC National News. At the age of 69, she got her first email address and she was taking a computer course so she could continue to help CLC.
Gerretsen also continued to take part in conferences, LifeChains and the National March for Life, often driven to these events by Interim columnist Frank Kennedy. She and Peter went to the first National March for Life in Ottawa in 1997 and attended in 2008. She said they answered the call to come “because they needed people.”