In Memory of Bert

CC writers & readers from coast to coast share memories of Bert Witvoet.

A collective loss
I honour Bert Witvoet for his encouragement both as a writer and editor. He stuck with me when I was very ill with depression. He once took Betsey and me to a sight-seeing tour of the Niagara Peninsula, dropped us off in a drenching downpour at the railing overlooking Niagara Falls, and came back to pick us up . . . eventually. Some honeymoon. Our world is poorer for his absence.

Curt Gesch
Telkwa, B.C. 

 

Christian Ed leader
I grew up with Bert in Bowmanville, Ontario in the early days of immigration. His brother Lowell was married to my sister Nell, and so I saw him often at family functions. I really appreciate the obituary CC wrote on him (by Peter Schuurman and Angela Reitsma Bick, March 23, 2020). Besides being a Christian Courier editor, he was a giant in the Canadian Christian school movement.

Harry Van Belle
Edmonton, Alberta

 

Jokester, visionary
In one of my earliest submissions to Calvinist Contact, I asked Bert, familiarly, if it was OK to call him that. He replied, “Dear Cathy, It was good to hear from you. I’m glad you want to call me Bert. I usually offer people two choices: they can either call me Bert or majesty, whichever feels more comfortable to them.” His 1989 poem, “only sailors make it to heaven,” begins “Sailors are believers; believers, sailors. Who else says, I need the breath of God to reach my destination?”

Now the Breath of God has swept Bert himself home and I can’t help but think of the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. When the Dawn Treader could sail no farther, Reepicheep, believer and sailor of the rarest kind, marched fearlessly into the waters of the Utter East to find his way to Aslan’s country. Bert was that kind of matchless visionary, one who gave his royal best to the Ruler of the wind and the waves.

Cathy Smith
Wyoming, Ontario

 

‘Go beyond the words!’
When I received the news of Mr. Witvoet’s “ascension into paradise,” the image that came to me was of him standing in front of the class at Hamilton District Christian High with book in his hand, saying: “You have to read into the book, go beyond the words and create images of what you see as you are reading!

I have maintained this discipline to this day and find it very helpful. This also served me well writing marketing briefs and later on when running my photography business.

Mr. Witvoet was always very kind and compassionate and gave freely of his time to discuss any issue. He loved to be challenged and would challenge you right back. We who were taught by him will always have something that he gave. We just have to look for it, to go beyond.

Stuart John Tigchelaar
Beaconsfield, Quebec

 

Imagination and adventure
I’m thankful for your article [Peter Schuurman and Angela Reitsma Bick, March 23] about Bert and that you used the word “adventure” a few times. Bert’s smile and his chuckle said so much, for me, and “adventure” was part of that mix.

I was a terrible high school student, looking for every opportunity to get out of work. One day in winter, I’d found an excuse to get out of class; the halls were deliciously empty, with locker doors half open, knitted scarves snaking from the bottom of some. Around 20 feet ahead of me, Bert emerged from a classroom, his back to me, heading for the stairs as well. Suddenly he stopped in front of one of those scarves, looked down and jumped up and down on it, as if it was a poisonous snake. Did he say, “kill it! kill it!” or was that just my runaway imagination? Anyway, a few jumps, and off he continued towards the stairs.

Bert’s sense of fun and drama, mixed with his challenges to me at that age, his vision and practice at that time, of what a Christian education can look like, and the price he, Alice, and the rest of the TDCH staff were willing to pay, spoke volumes to me as a Grade 12er in 1969. And that was just the beginning of our relationship.

A year earlier, between Grades 11 and 12, my best high-school friend and I spent the summer volunteering at a 30-bed hospital that was a part of the Christian Reformed church mission to the Navajo people around Gallup, NM. What we experienced there was a huge stretch and raised questions about missions and culture, and a “white” Jesus and culture. When I returned to begin Grade 12, Bert had room to listen to what we had experienced and helped us put words to them as well as to our questions. He never became defensive or tried to shut us down. What a gift that was!

In my yearbook that year, 1969, what Bert wrote pierced my heart, as my heart was especially prone to being pierced at that age. He wrote: “Much zeal. Needed: more discipline.” Right on target.

Agnes Kramer-Hamstra
St. Stephen, New Brunswick

 

Read more in memory of Bert

My Mentor Bert

A Poem for Bert

Beloved former CC Editor Bert Witvoet dies at 85

Authors

  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc

  • Harry is emeritus professor of clinical psychology at the Kings University in Edmonton and a life-long therapist specializing in trauma counselling.  

  • Cathy Smith, former features editor and columnist for Christian Courier, is a retired Christian schoolteacher who lives in Wyoming, Ont.

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