Skip navigation

Wednesday November 28, 2012

Denyse Gérin-Lajoie

Photographer, artist, magazine director, feminist, matriarch. Born June 19, 1929, in Montreal, died May 16, 2012, in Montreal of natural causes, aged 82.

Denyse was the youngest of three children born to Claire-Yvette Parizeau and Léon Gérin-Lajoie, both from prominent families with historical roots in Quebec.

She was raised with a deep sense of social justice. She often recalled how her father taught her about the importance of having respect for all people, about the "oneness" of the human race.

At age 19, she married Marc Tétrault, a Montreal businessman with whom she had six children. She faced tragedy as a young mother when one of her infant children died.

After a 20-year marriage, Denyse set out on her own. She yearned to get away from a lifestyle based on consumerism, in which she found little meaning. It was 1969, and for a single mother with five children it was a bold act. She used to say that life is "a work in progress," that you never knew where your path would lead you.

Soon after, she met Jorge Guerra, with whom she would share the rest of her life. They married in a civil ceremony, but only after living together for 30 years. Her three grandchildren attended as flower girls. The officiating judge was curious about why they had waited so long to marry. Denyse, revealing her sly sense of humour, replied "We wanted to be sure."

Denyse and Jorge were both photographers, and together they transformed a small Montreal magazine called Le Magazine OVO into an influential publication in the 1970s and 1980s. The magazine received international acclaim for the way that it used documentary photographs to explore social issues of the day. Denyse fulfilled her lifelong dream there of a career in the arts through which to inspire people to greater social awareness.

At 60, she went back to working as a freelance photo artist. She alternated living in Montreal and Lisbon, where late in life she mastered Portuguese. In 2008, she published an art photography book that documented the disappearing way of life in a Portuguese fishing village.

Making a "brief" visit to our family in 1998, she was stranded in our house for a month when an ice storm crippled Montreal. She always wore a silk scarf around the house, even at dinner, striking a figure of sheer elegance.

Denyse's family was paramount to her. As matriarch, she was the family historian, and in her 80s spent months meticulously organizing a reunion that brought together more than 200 people.

She was passionate in everything she did. She stoically beat cancer twice, which slowed her down, but only a bit.

She died unexpectedly in her sleep at home. But she had lived her life to the fullest. In her words, she'd had "a love affair with life."

Denyse leaves her husband, brother, five children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and many other relatives and friends.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo is a family friend.

To submit a Lives Lived:

Back to top