Martin Gerrits passed away peacefully at sunset on November 6, 2019, with his wife Danika Painter and children Etta and Vaughn Gerrits at his side. His passing followed a five-year illness with brain cancer. Despite the difficulties of his diagnosis, he remained positive through treatments with radiation, several rounds of chemotherapy, and three awake brain surgeries.
Martin was born June 27, 1965 in Ajax, Ontario, to Murray and Mary Gerrits. He spent his youth exploring along the shores and marshes of Lake Ontario with his brothers and sisters Theo (Marg), Mary (Dave Robinet), Phil (MaryAnn), John (Jenny), Betty (Tom Garrity), Pete, Frank (Joanne), and Murray. His childhood adventures instilled a lifelong curiosity, love of learning, and connection to nature. As the youngest in the family, he also had happy memories of time spent with his mother, watching and learning from her.
After graduating from Ajax High School, Martin was the first in his family to attend university. The love of his family gave him the confidence to strike out and pursue his interests. He ultimately earned a BSc and MSc in Marine Biology from the University of Guelph and PhD in Biology from Arizona State University.
As a scientist, Martin was known for his focus, determination, patience, and creativity in the lab. Doing fieldwork was a joy for him, too, making scuba diving excursions for research and teaching purposes in the Arctic and New Brunswick. Martin’s science career eventually took him to Ottawa, where he worked for 11 years as a toxicologist at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and developed a reputation there for his thorough and careful critical analysis.
While he was passionate about science, he loved to seek out and dig into new subjects and ideas, from igloo building methods to art history and space exploration. Martin always said if he had the chance to go back to school, he would study a whole new field because everything interested him.
But Martin’s connection with the outdoors was always particularly special to him. If you went for a walk with him he would point out plants and animals and would have stories and facts to share about them. He loved swimming, paddling, and camping, starting with the Ajax High School Outers Club and continuing with beloved annual camping trips with family and friends. Martin was also a serious runner who loved training with friends on his lunch breaks. He cycled to work every day, on weekends with family, and on cycling trips in France and Austria with Danika. Martin also felt a strong responsibility to protect the environment he loved so much, and tried to pass that value along to others.
Many remember Martin for his kindness, gentleness, and good humour. He was a good listener and loved helping and teaching others. In recent years, he enjoyed reconnecting with many old friends from his days in Ajax, Guelph, and Arizona. Anyone who spent time with Martin heard his constant jokes, and he was always looking for a connection that could spark a pun. Right up to the last day of his life, he couldn’t resist the chance to try to get a laugh.
Most importantly, Martin said that despite his many accomplishments, his connections to his family and the relationships he had with his family and friends held much more meaning for him. Even though he moved away from the Gerrits home base, he stayed close to his parents and all of his siblings. Martin’s love was a steady and unconditional presence in all of his family members’ lives. Martin and Danika were soul mates, and with their kids Etta and Vaughn they created an exceptionally close family.
A celebration of life will be held in Ottawa on his birthday, June 27, 2020. Those wishing to make a donation in his memory are encouraged to donate to any charity close to the donor’s heart.