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Gerard van Veen, author, probation officer, actor passed on at 88

by Lasana M. Sekou  

GREAT BAY, St. Martin (March 22, 2022)Gerardus Theodorus Benedictus Maria van Veen died peacefully in his sleep on March 13, 2022, at St. Maarten Medical Center, Cay Hill. He was 88.

A dapper Gerard van Veen (1933 – 2022).
Photo House of Nehesi Publishers.

Better known as Gerard van Veen or “Mr. van Veen,” and often as “Opa,” “Oom Gerard,” and “Uncle,” Gerard leaves his beloved wife Bernadine (St. Martin); his dearest sister Catherina “Tiny” van Veen and family (The Netherlands); his adopted children, nieces, nephews, and cousins “dear to his heart, too numerous to mention,” and his 16 godchildren.

He is survived by five brothers-in-law and six sisters-in-law and their families, aunt-in-law Carmen Carrington Hodge and family; his St. Martin of Tours Parish family; friends and colleagues of the Risen Christ Church Choir, House of Nehesi Publishers, the Rehabilitation Office, Prison, Court of Justice, The Daily Herald, and the University of St. Martin, among family members and friends in St. Martin, Aruba, Curacao, Saba, USA, and The Netherlands.

Born in 1933, in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, to Annie and Dick van Veen, Gerard’s childhood was a family-centered, happy, and adventurous one as described in his autobiographical Schoolboy in Wartime – Memories of My Early Life (2018). He was related to the Van Veen, Smorenberg, Smorenberg-de Graaf, Van Veen-Ranzÿn, Richardson, Koopman, Duzanson, Williams, Arnell, Gumbs, Holiday, Ras, Javois, Reiph, Christian, Lake, Blijden, Chance, Portegies Zwart, Simon, Flanders, Stewart, Haselager, Bute, Kock, Hogevorst, Hosford, James, and Carty, among other families.

Gerard received his early schooling in Alkmaar, where he was an altar boy during World War II. By the early 1950s, perhaps guided by a sense of his calling, his college years found him at St. Dominic College in the city of Nijmegen. He was already contemplating becoming a priest. “The Dominican motto ‘Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere’ (Contemplate and what you have contemplated, pass it on to others) appealed more to me after all.

“So I intended to join the Dominicans rather than the Benedictines by now. It was a good decision because it made me very happy and I am thankful that for 30 years I could be a member of the Dominican Order. I thought it was my mission to develop my spiritual life and to pass it on to others,” wrote Gerard in his autobiography.

In 1960, Gerard was ordained a priest in the Dominican order. He was already dedicated to what would become a life-long love: Traveling. He left Europe for the Caribbean in 1961, taking up his priestly duties in Curaçao that same year. Gerard would go on to play an active role in pastoral, social, educational, and cultural fields, particularly in Aruba and St. Martin.

In Aruba, Father Gerard published his first books, St. Theresa’s, San Nicolas (1971), Savaneta, Antes y Awor (1974), and Tur Cos a Cambia (1975).

In 1983, Gerard made a milestone decision to leave the priesthood. On July 20 of that year, the former priest and Bernadine Richardson were married. Before the year’s end the newlyweds moved to St. Martin. Gerard would immerse himself in the home island of his beautiful bride; and “continue his work as a good shepherd,” as one niece phrased it last weekend.

It was still in 1983, when Leo Chance, minister for the “island territory St. Maarten” in the Netherlands Antilles government, discussed with Gerard a government plan to open the first rehabilitation office in the territory to work with prisoners.

For the next decade, Gerard was the lone probation officer. The challenging bureaucracy, his dedication to inmates and their families are chronicled in Ten Years of Struggle (1994). He was also a member of the Committee of Supervision of the House of Detention until 2013.

Between 1994 and 2009, Gerard taught Dutch language and sociology at the University of St. Martin and gave religious instructions and reading assistance to students at the St. Dominic School and Sister Magda Primary School respectively. He served as a St. Martin of Tours Parish lector and extraordinary minister of the eucharist.

Gerard participated in about 20 plays, recalled Bernadine, and was an Adult Drama Workshop member. In fact, Gerard was one of the most captivating actors directed by Ian Valz during the heyday of St. Martin theater in the mid- to late-1980s, and well into the 1990s.

“Gerard was an author, actor, and a gentleman. My first close engagement with him was directing him in Derek Walcott’s classic Pantomime, along with Ian Valz, in 1987. Walcott saw the duo in a command performance in 1988 and was very impressed. He also took to the stage in Mixed Couple with the Qualichi Players,” said writer Fabian Adekunle Badejo.

Gerard’s own passion for writing never let up. His earliest articles and columns in St. Martin appeared in the Newsday and Chronicle newspapers. But the column that he might be best remembered for, “Church News Bits” or “Church,” has been appearing in The Daily Herald for over 20 years. On March 18, 2022, his last “Church” article, “On the way to maturity,” was published posthumously in the daily’s supplement The Weekender.

House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) is home to six of the 10 books written by Gerard van Veen. While he was at times discouraged from working with the indie press by potential financial contributors to his book projects, Gerard remained steadfast as a senior St. Martin author.

From 1999 and 2018, the following titles by Gerard van Veen were published by HNP: Colorful Religion, Lambee & The Road that Couldn’t be Built, Hakuna Matata & Other Travel Stories, Soualiga Catholica (1841–2016), and Schoolboy in Wartime.

Awards and honors include a Paul Harris Fellow/Rotary International (1993), Member in the Order of Oranje-Nassau (2005), and representative of the St. Martin writers at the St. Martin Book Fair (2016). Swimming at Great Bay Beach was Gerard’s hobby, which he did “daily up to 2019,” said Bernadine.     

The funeral service for Gerardus “Gerard” Theodorus Benedictus Maria van Veen will be held at the Risen Christ Roman Catholic Church, South Reward—Thursday, March 24, 2022. Viewing and tributes begin at 1 pm; the Holly Mass for Gerard, presided by Fr. Adam Oleszezuk, SVD and Fr. Yohanes Bally, SVD, begins at 2:45 pm. A private cremation will follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Gerard van Veen, to the probation and rehabilitation foundation Stichting Justitiële Inrichtingen Bovenwinden (Windward Islands Bank, ANG Account number: 21622503).

Farewell, Gerard.

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