Gib McElroy Lives on Through Gift-in-Will
During his lifetime, Gib (Gilbert) McElroy narrowly escaped death several times. After passing away in May 2020, he found a way to live on: by making a generous gift in will to the Perley Rideau Foundation.
Born in Ottawa in 1924, Gib had a difficult childhood. His mother died when he was 6 years old, so his elder sister raised him. On his 18th birthday, Gib enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“He told me that he wanted to be like Charlie Kelly, a neighbourhood friend who was a few years older,” says Joe Aubrey, Gib’s grandson and executor of his estate. “At the time, of course, he had no idea that their paths would cross many times.”
Gib served in a Lancaster crew, among the most perilous of all wartime assignments; fewer than 50 percent of all crew members evaded death, injury and capture. As tail gunner, Gib’s job was to fire at attacking planes from a cramped turret at the back of the plane. He participated in about 30 bombing missions over enemy territory, crash-landing three times and parachuting twice from Lancasters engulfed in flames.
Joe Aubrey believes that a cavalier attitude helped him survive. “When asked how he managed to survive, he was fond of saying: ‘If I was afraid, I’d be dead.’”
Shot down over Belgium on what proved to be his final mission, Gib ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp. Among a new group of prisoners marched into the camp one day was Charlie Kelly, who had already spent nearly two years in captivity. Their friendship deepened and enabled them to survive the rest of the war, including a two-week forced march to another camp during the winter of 1945. Years later, Charlie served as best man at Gib’s wedding and Gib became godson to one of Charlie’s sons.
“Gib was a wonderful grandfather to me,” says Joe, “but I think he struggled to be a good husband and father, probably because of his childhood and wartime experiences.”
Gib’s marriage ended in divorce and his wife raised their three children. Eventually, there would be six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. He continued to evade death, surviving a car crash in 1954 and a train derailment a year later in Maxville, Ontario. In his early 30s, Gib began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Sober the rest of his life, he helped countless others deal with addiction.
“While many people made a big deal of his war service, I think he took greater pride in helping other alcoholics,” says Joe.
In his 50s, Gib fell in love with Theresa Lavigueur. The relationship would last the rest of their lives and both would eventually move into the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre. When Gib moved into the Perley Rideau in 2013, he was delighted to reconnect with Charlie Kelly, who had moved in a few weeks earlier.
“Moving into the Perley added several years to his life,” says Joe, who visited often with his children.
Thanks to a gregarious personality, Gib endeared himself to staff and visitors. He served as President of the Veterans Residents’ Council, sang in the choir and attended every musical performance he could.
“Given how much he enjoyed his final years at the Perley, I wasn’t surprised that he made a gift-in-will to the Perley Rideau Foundation,” says Joe. He recognized that donations to the Foundation support the exceptional quality of care that residents receive.”