Jerry Gerow

Pioneering nurse practitioner passes away

1 February 2016

We are saddened to share news of the passing of Thora “Jerry” Gerow (Class of 4T7 and 5T1). She passed peacefully in her home on January 28, 2016. One of Ontario’s first nurse practitioners in Ontario, Gerow was a fierce advocate for the role, and served as a nurse for 55 years before retirement. To learn more about Gerow, her achievements and her inspirational gifts in support of nurse practitioners, please read the story below, excerpted from Pulse magazine.

Read Jerry Gerow’s obituary.

“My life was nursing”

by Alan Christie

Thora Gerow was only eight when she boldly and assuredly told her mother she was going to be a nurse. She had also considered being a missionary, but when a friend of her mother’s said she “would be a good meal for an animal” she changed her mind. Choosing to become a nurse was a great decision for the thousands of Canadians who have benefited from her compassionate nursing care. At her apartment in a Yonge Street, Toronto, retirement home, Gerow, now 95, reflected on her career, which started in 1941 when she graduated as an RN from Belleville General Hospital. On one shelf in her apartment sits her Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario; on a side table is a proclamation from Queen Elizabeth II for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, which she cherishes. But even more important to Gerow is helping others succeed in the profession. Regarding her recent gift to the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, she simply says, “My life was nursing.” Her generous donation will help support nurses who want to further their studies and become nurse practitioners (NPs).

A nursing sister

Gerow joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and was assigned to the Trenton, Ontario, base where thousands of airmen were stationed. An officer in the mess couldn’t remember “Thora” and said, “I am just going to call you Jerry.” The name stuck. She often jokes that she joined the Air Force to see the world but ended up nine miles from her family home in Belleville. But she did travel during her service, including a year in Goose Bay, Labrador, at the RCAF base. As one of only seven female officers, Jerry was in demand on the dance floor, and she says she still suffers sore feet as a result.

Advancing nursing

After the war, Gerow enrolled at U of T Nursing. To cover her room and board while furthering her education, she helped take care of a family with young children. In 1947, she graduated with a diploma in public health nursing.

Later, she returned to U of T, and the same family, to work toward her diploma in public health nursing, administration and supervision, which she completed in ’51. In the 1970s, she attended U of T Nursing once again, this time to prepare to be a nurse practitioner. As an NP, Gerow accepted a position with Student Health Services at what is now Ryerson University. Before long, advocating for NPs to take leadership roles in the health care system had become Gerow’s life calling. She helped found the Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario (NPAO) and was its membership secretary from 1985 to 2005. In 2004, she celebrated her 85th birthday with news that NPAO was going to award a $1,500 scholarship annually in her name. Then in 2005, it honoured Gerow with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

The spice of life

During her career, Gerow practiced in a variety of settings, including at the Hospital for Sick Children, providing health services for student nurses; with the Victorian Order of Nurses; and co-ordinating health services for adults with developmental challenges, first in Aurora and then in Whitby. Even after “retiring,” she served 10 years as a night charge nurse at a Salvation Army retirement home in Toronto. Jerry Gerow hasn’t stopped advocating for nursing. She worked quietly to rename the clinic in her retirement home from “medical centre” to “health service,” explaining that the former puts the emphasis on doctors but nurses do most of the work. She succeeded in getting the name changed. She also succeeded in helping thousands of patients and in encouraging young people who want to join the nursing profession. “It makes me happy to help people,” she says.

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Pulse Magazine.