Londoners mourn popular accessibility advocate

Gerry LaHay. Photo from @Canucklehead_ca via Twitter.

Londoners filled social media Friday with messages of condolences, little anecdotes, and pictures of a local accessibility advocate who died following a brief battle with a sudden illness.

Gerry LaHay’s passing was announced in a tweet from his longtime friend Lincoln McCardle earlier in the day.

“I am deeply saddened to report that our friend and London advocate Gerry LaHay passed earlier today after a brief battle with a sudden illness,” wrote McCardle.

LaHay became an outspoken advocate for accessibility and mobility issues in the city after losing both of his legs from complications from diabetes. He was wheelchair bound for some time before acquiring two prosthetic limbs. He became quick to call out businesses and locations in London that were friendly to those with physical disabilities and in January 2020 launched a petition for better snow clearing operations on city sidewalks.

In an interview with Blackburn News at the time, LaHay stressed the importance of making sure everyone is able to freely move on sidewalks.

“When you’re in a wheelchair and you come across a sidewalk closure and it’s not properly announced in advance with proper signage, you find yourself backtracking. It could be 600-700 metres,” said LaHay.

The 53-year-old also served on the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee.

“We are deeply saddened to hear that Gerry LaHay has passed away. He was a dedicated advocate and our community was better for the work he did for London. Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” the City of London tweeted.

London Mayor Ed Holder also expressed his condolences on social media. He stated that LaHay’s commitment to accessibility made London a “better and more fair community.”

“Let’s build a more safe, accessible and equitable city as a legacy thank you to Gerry LaHay and his tireless advocacy for those most at risk on our dangerous city streets,” a friend of LaHay posted.

It has not been released what illness LaHay had been battling.

A GoFundMe page to raise funds for LaHay’s two children and the Amputee Rehabilitation Program at St Joseph’s Healthcare London has been set up. Eighty per cent of the funds will go to his kids while 20 per cent will go to the Amputee Rehabilitation Program. By 1 p.m. Friday, nearly $2,800 had been donated.