Gerald Cutting’s commitment to serve the English-speaking community of the Eastern Townships springs from his deep roots in the land, but doesn’t end there.
Almost immediately after beginning his professional life, Cutting began assuming leadership roles for causes such as educating the young, assisting the needy, and ensuring that accessible health and social services continue, even as the number of English speakers declines.
Cutting is not retiring from caring, and in recognition of his long-standing and continuing record, the former director-general of Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville, and veteran community advocate, has been awarded this year’s Sheila and Victor Goldbloom community service award.
Cutting still serves on the board and finance committee of the CIUSS de l’Estrie-CHUSS – the agency that oversees 14 health and social service institutions in Sherbrooke, including the main hospital.
His roots reach back to the earliest European settlement: On his mother’s side, the Désilets settled in New France in the 16th century while the Cuttings came from Connecticut in 1792 and began farming in Coaticook.
Cutting and his wife Melanie Bauchner Cutting live on the original farm, now carrying the tongue-in-cheek moniker, Cutting Corners. Only 100 acres remain of the original spread.
The Cutting name is synonymous with Coaticook’s history: the family established the town’s first general store, which doubled as the Post Office.
Young Gerald did not sit back and savour the status of his family history. While at Coaticook High, he attracted attention as a leader and was the valedictorian of his graduating class.
With an M.A. in Psychology and Philosophy, he began his main professional career at newly-opened Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville, teaching psychology in 1972.
Never one to do just his nine-to-five and head home, Cutting volunteered in the Dixville Home for the intellectually handicapped, serving on its board from 1974 to 1993. When it was merged with the Centre Notre Dame de l’Enfant in Sherbrooke, he became treasurer of the board until 2013.
His early experience in community service was formative: “The voice I developed when I was working with the board in Dixville is the voice that I also have to exercise for the broader community – because the English community is struggling in many ways.
“We need to have partnerships if we’re going to survive,” he says.
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Even before the Parti Québécois came to power in November 1976, Cutting and other members of the English-speaking community realized they had to organize. In 1973 they formed the Social Action Group. When the challenges posed by the French Language Charter came up, Cutting helped create the Townshippers’ Association, serving as the president.
Teaching at Champlain was also a learning experience. Having a college that offers pre-university programs, but also some technology courses, is crucial for the English speaking community, he says.
“You can get a solid education in the area and don’t have to leave. If a young person goes away and completes their education in Montreal or outside the province, the likelihood of their returning is extremely low.”
As the English-speaking population in the area declines, being able to enroll students at Champlain College from the French school system is essential, for its survival.
Cutting has proved to be an effective community advocate with the courage and knowledge base to speak out, in excellent French.
When Bill 10 was introduced to merge historic institutions, he spoke out at committee hearings, arguing that “You cannot just take all of these institutions and throw them together and not create a designated space for the English speaking community.
“All of the work that so many people have done, the foundations that have been created, the money that has been raised, the voluntarism that exists — all of that would disappear. Let’s make changes to this bill,” he told Health and Social Services Minister Gaétan Barrette.
He remembers Barrette’s responding, “you know, you’ve made a good point, we’ve got to fix that.”
The CIUSS is now reviewing all of the access plans for these institutions, which will spell out in law what it means to have access to medical and social services in the English language.
This is particularly important for those in the 60+ demographic because some may well have lived their entire life in English, he notes.
Cutting urges others to come forward and volunteer to help maintain and enhance services to the English-speaking community.
“If you’re a member of the English-speaking minority, you must become involved, not just as a recipient of policies and services: we’ve got to be there at the policy making level. We’ve got to be there in deciding what’s going to be done.
“It’s up to us to shape the destiny that we want for our children and grandchildren.”