Jerry passed away on Saturday, November 20 at the age of 81. Despite having battled a medical condition that made it hard to speak he will be remembered by all who knew him as a teller of tall tales, a warm and funny host, an infinite well of facts and a kind-hearted husband, friend and father.
Jerry was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and never lost his maritime sensibility. He could eat a mackerel in minutes and would talk to a stump if no other audience was available. He loved the water and spent his youth in the Royal Canadian Navy, beginning in the University Naval Training Division (UNTD) while a student at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) and eventually retiring as a Lieutenant after serving aboard HMCS Athabascan, and teaching navigation at Cornwallis, among various postings.
During this time, he met and was adopted into the Harley family who gave him a second home. On moving to Ottawa, the O’Brien and Harley clans took their sailing to the Ottawa River, their Christmases to Kenwood Ave. and their political debates to the next level.
While in Halifax he met Helen Mullally, a generous and beautiful person of rapier wit who was not only smarter than him but could make gravy. Their 40-year-marriage was a true partnership of equals and their home was a place with great food, lively conversation, thousands of books and always a pesky cat or three. To this they added two daughters, Sarah and Jayne, who were raised to take learning, friendship and family seriously and take everything else with good humour – except baseball, baseball is serious business.
Jerry’s professional life was spent in the National Archives of Canada where he had many roles including Chief of State and Military Records. His encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian history and endless curiosity for all things historical made his 34-year career a labour of love. Beyond the work he cared for deeply, his colleagues were a source of professional collaboration and inveterate shenanigans. The conferences he attended throughout Canada were equal parts serious deliberation and rascality. Always with notes of the fine cuisine, travel and visiting historical sites and landscapes that he loved so much.
As his daughters and son-in-law, Duncan face the task of bringing closure to this life there is profound sadness because the most wonderful and kindly spirit is not with us. But as we remember him, break our backs moving his Lincoln Library, safely store his UNTD, Navy, StFX, National Archives, ACA, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox pins and mementos there is more laughter than tears. There are more stories than sadness and this is what Jerry left. A legacy of kindness, intellect and fun. The messages from his friends around the country and beyond are deeply appreciated and remind us of how much his friends mattered to him. He believed friendship was something to cherish and respect. To everyone who called him a friend, please know the feeling was mutual, whether you saw him recently or a decade ago, his memory was unfailing.
Though he was not one to give strict advice, Jerry did have some credos that governed his world view: you can have a full turkey dinner at any time of year, when you swim off the boat don’t ease in off the ladder - you must dive off the pulpit, instant coffee is wrong, you can never watch a good re-run too many times, you can never tell a good story too many times – consider the saga of The Big Trip, road trips can be long or short but must happen, always travel with a corkscrew and always, always, no matter what shape you’re in, pay for your round.
Thanks Dad, for everything. We will be okay.
Those wishing to pay their respects to the family are very welcome on Thursday, December 2, 2021 between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at Pinecrest Visitation Centre, 2500 Baseline Road. All guests will be asked to please present their Covid vaccine receipts. If friends so desire memorial donations may be made to the Association of Canadian Archivists or The Ottawa Mission