Margaret Fertuck

Margaret Fertuck was a longtime Early Childhood Education teacher who died tragically along with her husband and son in May, 2001. She is greatly missed by her friends and colleagues here at Vanier College.

Sue Montgomery wrote the following article in the Montreal Gazette of May 24, 2001 which described the tragic story of Margaret Fertuck, her husband Ed and their son Geoff.

Son's schizophrenia fatal for family:
Mourner at a funeral service in Beaconsfield pinpoints mental illness
as the cause of a family tragedy that took three lives last week

Brian Law paid tribute to his dear friend Geoff Fertuck yesterday by naming the disease that killed him, his mother, Margaret, and his father, Edward. Schizophrenia.

Perhaps for some of those crowded into the Beaconsfield United Church to celebrate the lives and mourn the loss of three members of their tight-knit community, it was the first time they had heard a precise definition of the illness that too often is misunderstood.

"A mental disease marked by a breakdown in the relation between thoughts, feelings and actions, frequently accompanied by delusions and retreat from social life," Law began his tribute, quoting from the Oxford English Dictionary.

It wasn't Geoff who was responsible for the horrific scene police found at the Hollis St. house last Wednesday when they arrived to inform the Fertucks their son had taken his own life on the nearby railway tracks.

It wasn't Geoff who killed his parents or himself, La said. It was his disease - a disease affecting approximately 300,000, or one in 100, Canadians.

Photographs on the church altar of the Fertucks at their daughter Debbie's wedding, of Ed and Margaret looking adoringly at their only grandchild and a young Geoff smiling widely for the camera, seemed to send the message it could happen to anyone.

Ed Fertuck was the kind of father who made the same joke when asked what he would like for dinner: "Pheasant under glass and baked Alaska will do fine," he'd say. At big family dinners, he'd sing the Beatles' hit When I'm 64, adjusting it as he grew older.

Margaret Fertuck often had her two kids' friends over for dinner and spoiled them with her blueberry pie, played bridge and taught Early Childhood Education at Vanier College.

"There was something a little old-fashioned about the qualities of Margaret and Ed," Margaret's brother Perry Anglin told the standing-room-only congregation yesterday. "And those qualities they gave to their children in spades."

But at the same time, they were a couple in their retirement years struggling to understand and deal with an illness that until as recently as 10 years ago was still blamed on parents. At 35, their grown son had, by court order, moved back home with them, throwing the family into the nightmare of trying to find support and deal with the shame, guilt and confusion that comes with the stigma of mental illness.

By all accounts, their tall, lanky son, who attended Beaconsfield High School in the 1980s, was outgoing and fun, and the friends who had traveled from across Canada yesterday were a testimony to his popularity. Once, Law said, they bungee-jumped together naked "because the girl at the booth told us that if we did it naked, it would be free."

He excelled at basketball, soccer and football and was athlete of the year for several years running.

"He succeeded at being a friend," said Donna D'Arcy, as she gathered with high school friends in N.D.G. before yesterday's service. "There were the jocks, the punks and the preppies and Fer was friends with all of them," she said, using the nickname Fertuck carried throughout his life.

As the congregation wiped tears and some touched their neighbours' hands, Anglin referred to Geoff as the son he and his wife, Aimee, never had.

"He was cheerful, witty, unassuming," Anglin told the people gathered in the church as a fresh spring rain fell outside the open windows. "He was so tender and gentle and full of self-doubt that he didn't realize what a terrific person he was."

There was never any clue - at least in the high-school years - that the young banjo player who loved the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, had ambitions to be a farmer and wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind, suffered any kind of mental illness.

After a year at John Abbott College, Geoff was scouted to play soccer at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. It wasn't until his second year there, after a suicide attempt, that his friends were given the first clue that something wasn't right.

"But we saw him when he came home after that and he seemed OK, so it (the suicide attempt) was never mentioned," friend Cyncee Becker said.

Geoff gave up university, decided to follow his passion for the outdoors, bought a red 1952 Mercury pickup and drove out west. He spent the next 12 years in Banff and Whistler, tending a golf course, hiking and skiing. His illness was kept under control with medication and everything seemed to be going well, said Rod Heather, a teacher at BHS and a close family friend.

Recently, Geoff had fulfilled his dream of working his grandfather's farm on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron. But somewhere along the line during the past two years, things fell off the rails. Geoff stopped taking the medication that kept his illness in check - a common occurrence with mentally ill people.

No one will ever know why Geoff made this choice, but many mental- health experts agree that medication can have such adverse side- effects that people decide to stop taking it despite the consequences. Others stop because of the stigma that goes with the illness.

His uncle said "a silly incident" with the law in Ontario led to Geoff's being released into custody to his parents, who then had the responsibility for his care without having access to his medical file.

Geoff didn't want his family to have anything to do with his illness, said a mental-health expert close to the Fertucks, who didn't want her name used.

They had, said Anglin, done everything they could to get him the help he needed, alluding to gaps in the legal and medical systems.

"They were totally unselfish in their love for Geoffrey," he said. "They knew there was always a risk, but none was too great."

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