Gerard Amerongen, the speaker of the Alberta legislature during the Peter Lougheed era, will be remember as a dedicated husband and father and a devoted Catholic with a lifelong commitment to fairness and justice.
Throughout his long life, Amerongen volunteered with many organizations dedicated to improving people's lives, including the Social Justice Commission of the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Amerongen, a member of St. Joseph's Basilica for decades until he moved to St. John the Evangelist Parish about a decade ago, died April 21 in Edmonton with his family by his side. He was 99.
Bob McKeon, director of social justice for the Edmonton Archdiocese, said Amerongen, his father-in-law, will be remembered in various ways, including as a public figure highlighted by his role as speaker, as a lector at his parish, member of the Social Justice Commission and as a lawyer who did legal work for several Catholic institutions.
McKeon met Amerongen in the early 1970s when he was hired by the Social Justice Commission.
"He was a very faithful Catholic with a strong social justice commitment," he recalled. "He supported the social justice commitment of his kids and in his own life."
McKeon said Amerongen will also be remembered for his commitment to his family, a family McKeon joined in 1977 when he married Gerard's daughter Mary.
"He was a wonderful man who welcomed me to the family and, as my kids grew up, he welcomed them. He was personable, inviting, gracious, probing, interested in ideas and interested in issues."
Amerongen had a good sense of humour, loved the outdoors and was
excellent at working with wood, and making all kinds of furniture for his family, from drawers to bookcases.
"He was a craftsman," McKeon said. "He would do nothing incomplete or half-done."
Amerongen was born in Winnipeg in 1914, but moved to Edmonton as a youngster. He attended St. Joseph's High School and later served as president of the University of Alberta students' union before graduating with a law degree.
He maintained a general law practice in Edmonton for nearly 60 years. His lifelong love of politics led him to run for office unsuccessfully several times.
He was first elected as Progressive Conservative in Edmonton-Meadowlark in 1971 and was chosen as speaker in 1972. He stayed in that chair until he was defeated in 1986. He returned to his law practice after politics, retiring at 92.
His son Peter Amerongen, a house builder and the second oldest of seven children, said his father "had a deep sense of fairness and decency, and he didn't take himself very seriously."
Having grown up in the 1930s and having seen the effects of inequality as well as the carnage brought by the Second World War, "he had a sense we had to build institutions that would ensure that these sorts of things would never happen again," Peter said of his father.
"He was part of a whole generation that understood that people came first."
Amerongen was a "very clear-thinking individual who was critical of injustices and hypocrisy wherever his saw those," Peter said. "He was critical of himself as well and there were times he felt it was important to speak out and he had the courage to do that."
Apart from the Social Justice Commission, Amerongen also volunteered with the Native Friendship Centre, St. Joseph's Hospital Board, Urban Reform Group of Edmonton and Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation.
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil will celebrate a funeral Mass on Friday, May 10, 2013 at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph's Basilica. Donations in lieu of flowers may be made in Gerry's memory to the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society or to Development and Peace.