Greg Gates, general manager of Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, who died suddenly on Jan. 11 at age 60, will be remembered as a guardian of the Jewish tradition.
Gates, who is not Jewish, began working at Benjamin’s 40 years ago as a junior funeral director. He died of a heart attack on his way home from work. He lived in Barrie with his wife of 38 years, Joan, and their son, Gary, 20.
Michael Benjamin, president of the funeral chapel, said Gates was so familiar with Jewish traditions that people frequently mistook him for being Jewish and sometimes even thought he was a rabbi.
“He was compassionate, caring, loyal, and dedicated to the families. He comes from the ‘old school’ and this was his calling.”
Benjamin said Gates’ funeral was in Sarnia, where Gates was from. More than 30 staff members, former Benjamin’s employees and some rabbis attended. “He really touched people.”
Rabbi Philip Scheim, spiritual leader of Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Congregation, wrote on Benjamin’s website that he was privileged to know Gates for more than 30 years.
“For families in their hours of grief, for colleagues and clergy working with him, he was invariably the right man in the right place at the right time. He combined sensitivity with competency, understanding and efficiency,” Rabbi Scheim wrote.
“His gentle, yet authoritative voice provided comfort and direction in numerous circumstances. I add my name to the long list of those who will miss him greatly.”
Howard Mammon, executive director of Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks, wrote on the website that they often worked together during difficult circumstances. “His professionalism, sensitivity and care for the families we both served were exemplary,” Mammon said.
Mammon, who met with Gates a few hours before his death, said that he “appreciated his insights on various issues affecting the bereavement sector.”
Joan Gates said in an interview that her husband was passionate about his own family and about the Benjamin’s family.
“We were married for 15 years before our ‘miracle’ baby was born, and Greg was the perfect father. Anyone who knew him knew about Gary.”
Gates said that her husband was a happy man. “He loved his work and he loved us. He didn’t need anything else,” she said.
“I take comfort that he left his mark. When we had Gary, my first call was from a rabbi to congratulate us, and when Greg died, [one of the first calls] was from a rabbi.”
When her husband was on call and people would call in the middle of the night, she said, “he was kind and compassionate. He would put them at ease, and he told them he was always there. They often called back just to talk a little more.”
Besides his wife and son, Gates leaves his brother and sister-in-law John and Heather.