Platform sandals. Clogs. Wedges. Mules. Patent leather Mary Janes. What do all these shoes have in common?
In the late 1970s, these were all the latest trends in fashion footwear and were also what Gerry “The Legend” Taylor sold day in and day out, as one of the youngest executives ever at the Brown Shoe Company, a historic and well-loved family run Canadian brand.
His daughter Carole fondly recalls helping him on the weekends as a little girl in the head office. She fit a sample shoe size and tried on every fabulous shoe, just like Cinderella.
Gerry often worked long hours, even on holidays and weekends. Despite his busy schedule, he always managed to put his children first. His kids still vividly recall their delight when he brought special chocolate such as “Payday” bars, back from his frequent American business trips.
Gerry Experienced a Wake-Up Call
Gerry suffered from heartburn and chest pain for years. He had been putting his health on the back burner. Less was known about heart health back then but, at the time, two of his closest friends had passed away due to heart attacks. He finally asked his family doctor for help.
Gerry was referred immediately to the then brand-new Ottawa Heart Institute for an angiogram. The test revealed that he had three blocked coronary arteries. One entirely blocked, due to his high-stress job and lifestyle. He needed surgery and had a successful quadruple bypass in February of 1982. Thanks to the care of Dr. Wilbert Keon, co-founder of the Institute, the proud Dad and businessman was discharged eight days later. He was back to work by May of the same year.
With the support of his beloved wife, Marg, Gerry’s lifestyle drastically changed for the better after his surgery. He quit smoking immediately, walked and rested daily, and ate well-balanced meals.
Gerry & Marg
Marg and Gerry were life partners and smitten with each other from the very beginning. He was a young salesman in Calgary when he spotted his “old-fashioned southern Belle.”
Marg grew up as an only child and prided herself on being a ‘supermom.’ Daughter Karen remembers being doted on by her loving Mother. On school sick days Karen snuggled up onto the couch with a hot water bottle, snacks, and a blanket, while her mom ironed the family clothes and watched her favourite soap operas.
Gerry and Marg raised four children: Don, Lori, Carole, and Karen. They watched their seven grandchildren grow up and witnessed the birth of their first great-granddaughter.
They lived a full life together and had the opportunity to travel the world for almost 20 years. Their extra time was made possible thanks to surgery and excellent patient care from the Ottawa Heart Institute team.
Back to the Institute and Family Heartbreak
In 2005, Gerry suspected he had a small heart attack while golfing on Anna Maria Island in Florida. He immediately flew back to Canada to get help at the Heart Institute. Dr. Fraser Rubens performed a second open heart surgery, a triple bypass. Gerry’s second surgery was a success, but sadly heart disease would continue to plague Gerry and Marg’s life.
Sometimes, the path of life is a complex and challenging one. Not long after his second surgery, Gerry, Marg, and the Taylor family suffered a series of losses in short order. Son Don, who was a cardiac patient passed away at the age of age 50. Tragically, Gerry lost his eldest daughter Lori at the age of 47, and the love of his life, Marg, succumbed to cancer just months after his second surgery.
Heart disease often has a genetic component and runs in families. Daughter Carole would also need to be treated. In 2014, she realized there was something very wrong with her heart. Her severe pain felt like “an elephant on her chest.” It took her breath away and stopped her from being able to walk her dogs. Carole discovered that she, too, had heart disease, and a heart blockage. Carole received a heart stent and today continues to enjoy her life as a busy teacher.
How Gerry Became a “Legend”
Gerry came from modest beginnings in Saskatoon, SK, but had the determination and drive to succeed in his early days as an athlete, and then as a businessman. He started from the bottom as a shoe salesman and worked his way up the ‘corporate ladder’ to the very top of his industry, along with contemporaries and friends like John Eaton, the President and founder of the Eaton’s Department store chain. Decades later, his affectionate grandsons would nickname him “The Legend.” They marveled at their dynamic and passionate Grandfather, who joked and did yo-yo tricks with the family, oftentimes delighting children who toured the main Brown Shoe Company factory in Perth, Ontario.
A Compassionate Legacy for Generations to Come
Gerry Taylor left two legacies: firstly, his contribution to the history of shoemaking and fashion in Canada.
He became the President of the Brown’s Shoe Company, and concurrently the Vice-President of its American subsidiary, Buster Browns (now Caleres). It was the first North American retailer to bring Italian-made shoes to Canada, a place many had thought fashion forgot.
He was successful in business because he connected with everyone who walked through his stores, giving each customer a smile, a great experience, and a quality shoe. He helped to make the company what is today—a nationwide shoe retailer with 67 stores across Canada.
Gerry and Marg were forever grateful for the groundbreaking and compassionate care that he received at the Heart Institute. Together they created a legacy; they left a transformative gift in their Wills. A small act can make a mighty difference in a life, just like the gift of a chocolate bar remembered decades later by Gerry’s children.
Despite deteriorating health, Gerry was blessed to live until his late 80s, passing away in 2018. He had many more years with his daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchild. Karen became a nurse and helped her father with his medical appointments. Carole loves shoes to this day because they remind her of her dad. Each year, the family still gets together on August 2nd at their cottage to remember the life of this legendary man on his birthday.
Like a small stone in a pond that makes widening ripples, thousands of patients will feel a single act of caring for future generations thanks to these two special people, Gerry, and Marg Taylor. For the Taylor family, giving to the Ottawa Heart Institute makes good sense and is the perfect fit—just like a great pair of shoes, or even a glass slipper.