Remembering Gerry Atwell
We will greatly miss our brother, uncle, great-uncle, brother-in-law, godfather and dear friend, Gerald Phillip Atwell, who passed away on Saturday, November 23, 2019, at St. Boniface Hospital, where he had been born on August 14, 1959. The evening before, he had been doing what he loved to do, making music, and sharing it with others, when he suffered a heart attack.
We thank his friends and fellow bandmates, as well as the patron, paramedics and staff at the Pony Corral on Grant Avenue, for all they did to help him. Next day, Gerry was visited at the hospital by a steady stream of family and friends who comforted and serenaded him through the afternoon and into the evening. With his loving family by his bedside Gerry passed away peacefully that evening.
We thank the compassionate, informative nurses and physicians in the Acute Cardiac Care Unit (ACCU) at St. Boniface who cared for Gerry in his last hours as if he were their own family.
Gerry is predeceased by his parents George and Frances (nee Brown) Atwell. He leaves his Aunt Phyllis, his siblings, Carol (and Richard), Judy (and Paul), Jocelyn (and Ken), Vincent (and Angie), James (and Suzanne), and Cathy (and Simon), nieces and nephews, Sean, Carla (and Darrin), Brendan, Nicola, Bennet, Kim and Julien, great-nephews, Caleb and Jacob, god-daughter, Caitlin, myriad cousins across Canada, Trinidad and Tobago and Australia, as well as countless friends and associates around the world.
He attended school in St. Norbert, where he was student council president in his last year at high school, and active in the Navy League and Sea Cadets, playing trumpet in their marching bands and making many lifelong friends. He swam with the Manitoba Marlins competitive swim team during his middle school years.
He was also a pillar of strength for his family, who enjoyed his wit, his seemingly bottomless treasure trove of jokes and nurtured his skills as a raconteur. He, along with his brother, James, worked for years with their father’s beekeeping business and were beekeepers with the U of M entomology department.
Gerry was a special friend and support to our brother Vincent, who, in return, Gerry described as 'one of [his] best friends'. Gerry cared for Vince tirelessly in the years prior to Vincent's double lung transplant, and then in the years that followed.
Gerry was a Renaissance Man. He was most known as a keyboard player and vocalist with bands such as Eagle & Hawk (with whom he won a Juno Award in 2002), Ministers of Cool, Rockalypso, the Boogie Nights band and Voice of Boom. He was known for his vigourous performance on-stage and his gentlemanly demeanor off.
Up until his death and dating back to 1995, Gerry held numerous and continuous senior roles at the St. Norbert Arts Centre including President of the Board and Artistic Director. Throughout his almost 25 year tenure at the St. Norbert Arts Centre, Gerry was best known as a generous creative collaborator, an interdisciplinary intercultural curator, a strategic thinker and most of all, a devout communitarian. Gerry’s first connection with SNAC was a major commission for an interdisciplinary theatre piece, Soul in Ice. The piece tells the story of his grandmother's experience growing up as a schoolgirl at the St. Norbert Convent, highlighting the Atwell family's deep roots in St. Norbert and displaying the complete range of Gerry's artistic abilities. Gerry was working on the 2020 line-up of talent for the popular free summer concerts at Assiniboine Park’s Lyric Stage and Leo Moll Sculpture Garden when he passed away. He had been the entertainment liaison there since 2016. He was the musical director for the Sarasvati Theatre production “New Beginnings” in 2018 and for Rainbow Stage’s “Ring of Fire” tribute to Johnny Cash in 2016.
Gerry was a professional writer of theatre, television, radio and film. In addition to Soul on Ice (1996) and The Last Stop (2001-2) his major works include the films, The Hands of Ida (1995) and Barbara James (2003), the plays Life of the Party (2002) and New Beginnings (2018), the TV show Hotel Babylon (2005) and the CBC radio drama Soul Games.
Gerry’s commitment to the arts was not only in the spotlight. He was a dedicated board member, mentor, facilitator and contract grant-writer for a long list of arts service, community and social justice organizations often times as a founding member of new organizations where he saw need. His work can be felt throughout the whole city of Winnipeg in organizations such as the St. Norbert Arts Centre, the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, where Gerry was instrumental in the creation of its successful Just TV program, Manitoba Music (formerly MARIA), the Black Educators Association of Manitoba, the Manitoba Association of Playwrights, Manitoba Film & Music, Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), Mary Jane’s Cooking School Inc., the Manitoba Cultural Society of the Deaf, Creative Manitoba, the Arts and Access/Ability Network of Manitoba, NAfro Dance, the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus, Urban Indigenous Theatre Company Inc., Artists in Healthcare Manitoba, Plug In Contemporary Art Institute, Art Kitchen, University of Manitoba’s Stu Clarke Centre for Entrepreneurship and many others.
From 1986 to 1992, Gerry worked full-time in market research for Results Group Inc. starting as a telephone interviewer and gaining increasing responsibility until eventually he was a survey designer and research analyst.
Afterwards, he would continue to do market research as a freelancer, writing proposals and reports, and occasionally facilitating focus groups.
Gerry mentored many young and aspiring artists. He was particularly interested in inspiring youth through music and the arts. His peers described him as a connector, and not just for music, and an essential go-to person in the music community.
A warm, witty, positive, brilliant and big man who had a bigger impact on the lives of those around him, his life bore witness to the fact that he achieved what so many have attempted by actually making the world a better place.
In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote a fitting farewell to Gerry, “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
A viewing will be held from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at Cropo Funeral Chapel, 1442 Main St., Winnipeg.
A Celebration of Gerry Atwell’s Life will be held at the Burton Cummings Theatre from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 8, 2019. Doors will open at noon. Please be mindful this is a Memorial Service for friends and family. Many more honorary events will be held in the near future to remember dear Gerry.
In lieu of flowers, the Atwell family asks that donations be made to establish a scholarship fund in Gerry’s name to continue his work fostering young people to achieve their personal creative potential. Please forward your contributions to the St. Norbert Arts Centre.