Toy Fund donation: Love for late wife lives on in the smiles he brings to children

  • Gerry and Marie L’Heureux in Paris in 1996. CONTRIBUTED

Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2021 7:03:19 AM
Modified: 12/18/2021 7:03:04 AM

NORTHAMPTON — “You were always there for me, and in some of our early conversations, you made me promise I would outlive you,” Gerry L’Heureux wrote in his 2015 memoir. “How could I possibly agree to make that kind of promise? You and I were supposed to grow old together.”

Gerry’s memoir, “Celebrating Marie’s Life,” is about the 28 years he spent married to his late wife, Marie L’Heureux, who died in 1999 after a 14-year battle with breast cancer. He has only a few copies of the book that he wrote for his grandchildren, and he shared one with the Gazette this week.

Gerry, a retired chemistry professor from Florence, donated to this year’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund in Marie’s honor, as he has done regularly since her death. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression.

Now 81, Gerry met Marie, née Twarog, at a Christmas party at the Holyoke group home where he worked in 1969. He was a tutor and Marie lived next door; the two were briefly introduced when Marie stopped in to the party with her mother, but they fell in love when they both vacationed on Cape Cod in the summer of 1970, and the couple married at the former St. Hyacinth College and Seminary chapel in Granby in 1971.

“I think our wedding rivaled that of British royalty at Westminster Abbey. Marie was beautiful, radiant, and princess-like as she walked down the aisle,” Gerry wrote in his memoir, which also contains reflections about Marie from the couple’s two children, Nicole and Danielle, and stories about the grandchildren that Marie never had the chance to meet.

The couple’s romance would last until April 15, 1999, three days after Marie’s 53rd birthday. Gerry wrote that his wife died at the family’s Florence Road home, “clasping hands” with her closest loved ones.

“I like to bring a smile to the faces of children I’ve never met. It’s the sort of thing that keeps the memory of the past blended with the present, alive and well,” Gerry said in an interview after his donation. “I buy so many gifts for the grandkids, it’s outrageous. I laugh when my wallet empties out and I smile when they open the presents. Many children are not as fortunate as my grandchildren are.”

The Toy Fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County. The Toy Fund raised $82,376 last year.

Born on April 12, 1946, in Holyoke, Marie L’Heureux was a graduate of Holyoke Catholic High School; she earned an associate degree in business administration from the now-defunct Northampton Commercial College and moved to Northampton in 1971. At the time of her death, she had worked as an administrative assistant in the graduate office at Smith College since 1981.

Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985. During the period of her illness, she co-chaired the American Cancer Society of Hampshire County’s Daffodil Day fundraiser and was active in the organization’s door-to-door fundraising campaign.

She loved to garden, enrolled in painting classes, took sewing lessons and enjoyed live theater. She and Gerry traveled to Paris in 1996 and attended Mass at the famed Notre Dame cathedral.

In his memoir, Gerry tells of a time in 1998 when he and Marie were at a wedding. Suddenly, she began to cry and said to her husband, “I’ll never get to see my two daughters walking down the aisle, nor will I ever get to know my grandchildren.”

“Not too long after she died, I had in succession five grandchildren, all of whom live in Florence,” Gerry said on Thursday. “Am I not lucky? I have five grandchildren who adore me, and I try to compensate for Marie not being there.”

Gerry now lives with his partner of 20 years, Claire Wheeler, who also lost her spouse to cancer.

“Although I am no longer a husband,” Gerry wrote in his memoir, “Marie rests with me in my sweet memories and remains with me always in a deeply spiritual, loving way. … Marie celebrated life to its fullest. I think I’m able to say the same thing about myself.”

Donations to the Toy Fund may be mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at https://toyfund.gazettenet.com.

CSO-The Bridge Family Resource Center at 101 University Drive in Amherst verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund vouchers, which can be used through Dec. 31.

The following stores are accepting Toy Fund vouchers this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Blue Marble/Little Blue, 150 Main St., Level 1, Northampton; High Five Books, 141 N. Main St., Florence; The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Once Upon A Child,1458 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Plato’s Closet, 1472 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 W. Bay Road, Amherst; World Eye Bookshop, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., 1584 Dwight St. No. 1, Holyoke.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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