Tributes to Eric Gass
Read the tributes in memory of Eric Gass.
To us who grew up in the parsonages of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, Eric Gass was a household name. During any big event of the Diocese, any visit of a missionary, anything to do with the relief projects and development programmes of the Diocese – whether it be within or outside the peninsula, the name of this dynamic person manning the Riverside, New York offices of the United Church Board of World Missions would come up. He did not have to be present but his presence was felt in all the big events of the Diocese. We knew he was a great visionary and a people person who very much interacted with those whom he worked with.
My first flash of memory of Eric is when he visited the projects of the Diocese, during Bishop Ambalavanar’s Bishopric, a time when Homes for needy children, and build-it-yourself housing schemes were introduced in the Diocese. The church was beginning to reach out to the community in a big way and we could see that Eric Gass was very much a part of these development programmes. Eric Gass’ visit that year in the 80’s was announced and each section of the Diocese perked up to show itself at its best. My mother was in charge of the Eliyathamby Home at the time and the little ones all spruced up for the occasion, lined up on the platform to give their song. They were singing “Sweet Jesus” and I could see the way Eric listened and responded to each of the items that came up on stage, often leaning over to comment to the Bishop or to listen to descriptions of the program. That was a very long time ago. Yes, Eric Gass has been a strong personality who figured very much in the growth of our church from the late sixties up until now.
I know Eric visited Jaffna several times after that. The last time he was in Sri Lanka with his wife Patricia my husband and I met him at the Colombo C.S.I. church. We sat on the same pew that Sunday morning and we heard Eric singing, a resonant voice, breaking into perfect harmony half way through the song. That day we saw another side to Eric.
Even after his retirement Eric was involved with the church in Jaffna, with the schools and with the programmes of the Diocese. The church in Jaffna could not let him go! With his knowledge and experience – a wealth – he was very much sought after both here and in the U.S.A. His period with the Trustees as President and as a member was an enriching experience. He spoke and acted from his clear and first-hand knowledge of the church and its programmes.
My mother-in-law, having worked with Rev. Dr. Eric Gass in his offices at Riverside New York for a year had a very high regard and respect for him, his wife Patricia and his family. She would often talk about Eric, his dynamic personality and leadership. She considered him a great friend. I realized how closely he knew her in 2005 when I attended the meeting of the TJCF in Boston. That was the first time at a TJCF meeting, for me. I was a little apprehensive and gingerly stepped into the meeting room, timidly looking out for a face I knew….. Eric turned and saw me and immediately walked up, stretched out his hand in welcome and asked “How is Prem?” I was taken aback but certainly very, very pleased that here was someone who knew the family so closely. I felt at home then onwards. I was impressed with the way he guided the meeting, giving observations and remarks that kept us all listening and concurring with many of the decisions that ensued.
Eric had a special place for Uduvil. He participated in the 175th Anniversary of our school as a close friend of the school. Uduvil reciprocates by giving him a special place in our hearts. Eric will go down in the annals of Uduvil Girls’ College – as a strong and great leader who cared, visited and acted in the true missionary spirit. When Eric was slowly slipping away, I was wondering how I could contact him – to let him know how much we appreciated his great services, his concern for family and his concern for the churches and the schools. Would he be well enough to respond, I wondered. Then one morning I decided I would write to him and let him know. There was a prompt response from him – in which he stated that he was ill but extending his warm wishes to Uduvil and to the family.
The tenth of December, Human Rights Day is a day when we affirm and acknowledge the rights of all people. It is also a day when we remember and celebrate the lives of all who have worked for human rights all over the world. Eric, a missionary who firmly believed in the rights of all people, whose life was full of humanitarian efforts, passed on into life eternal on Human Rights Day. Eric lived a life that was beautiful, a life that would have met many challenges, a life that in turn made a difference in the lives of those whom he served – as a missionary in different parts of Asia. He will be remembered always by those of us here in Jaffna and he has made an imprint on our history as a dedicated and dynamic missionary of our times. We send our heartfelt condolences to Pat, their children and their families. Their loss is great and may God hold them very close and comfort them at this time of great grief and sadness.
Uduvil Girls College